ST. PETERSBURG -- The crowd inside Tropicana Field made rookie Shane Bieber feel right at home Tuesday night. As the pitcher headed off the field in the seventh inning, a rowdy section filled with Tribe fans rose to their feet and offered Bieber a standing ovation.Bieber certainly looked like he
ST. PETERSBURG -- The crowd inside Tropicana Field made rookie Shane Bieber feel right at home Tuesday night. As the pitcher headed off the field in the seventh inning, a rowdy section filled with Tribe fans rose to their feet and offered Bieber a standing ovation.
Bieber certainly looked like he felt at home on the mound, where he cruised through Tampa Bay's lineup and paved the way for a 2-0 victory for the American League Central-leading Indians. The right-hander piled up a career-high 11 strikeouts and continued to be precocious in terms of pitching years.
"I think he's getting better as he goes," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "He's probably throwing more innings than he has before and he's not showing any sign of slowing down."
With the win, the Indians (82-63) lowered their magic number to clinch a third consecutive division title to three.
Cleveland's lineup labored to solve Rays righty Tyler Glasnow, but the Tribe's few breakthroughs proved sufficient for Bieber. Gomes put the Indians on the board with a towering two-out solo shot in the fifth (No. 14 on the year for the catcher) and slugger Edwin Encarnacion followed suit with a monstrous solo blast in the sixth (his 30th homer in '18).
Those were the only runs relinquished by Glasnow in his seven frames for Tampa Bay (79-65).
Bieber logged 100 pitches in 6 2/3 innings, racking up all of his strikeouts via his four-seamer and slider. The rook worked effectively low-and-in to lefties, while enticing Tampa Bay's right-handed batters to chase offerings on the outer edges. The result was a shift from precision to power for Bieber, who struck out two batters in each of the first five innings.
Bieber said staying aggressive inside was a key aspect of the outing.
"That was big tonight," said Bieber, who took a loss against the Rays on Sept. 1. "Just going off the last time I faced them -- I think it was two outings ago -- they were pretty comfortable the second, third time around the order. I know we talked about that.
"Being able to establish in and being OK with missing breaking balls down and keeping them a little more uncomfortable was big. I think that allowed me to go deeper into the game tonight."
The performance marked Bieber's first double-digit strikeout game, but gave the Indians 27 individual showings with 10-plus punchouts this season. That extended a club record, surpassing the 25 double-digit games turned in by Cleveland pitchers last year.
Tommy Pham delivered a one-out single against Bieber in the first inning, but then the righty held the Rays to an 0-for-16 showing into the sixth. Tampa Bay managed to put at least one runner on in each of Bieber's final four innings of work, but the rookie -- with an assist from the bullpen in the seventh -- escaped unscathed.
"I thought he executed the game plan really well," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He tried to get in on the lefties enough to open up the plate. But his fastball, through the zone, had a lot of life to it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Thirty bird: Encarnacion's no-doubter in the sixth inning (107.7 exit velocity and 422 projected feet, per Statcast™) gave him at least 30 home runs in each of the last seven seasons, making him the lone Major Leaguer to achieve that feat. Over that seven-year run, the veteran slugger has taken his invisible parrot around the bases a Major League-leading 261 times. Prior to Encarnacion's active streak, Jose Cabrera (2007-13) was the last hitter to have at least 30 homers in seven straight years.
"It's unbelievable, man," Encarnacion said. "It's something I never expected -- to have the season I'm having, and seven straight years with 30 homers or more, it's very impressive. I'm very proud with what I've been doing."
Sleight of Hand: One night after giving up a walk-off homer, Brad Hand was called upon with two on and two outs and Cleveland holding a 2-0 lead in the seventh. The late-inning lefty ran into trouble out of the chute, walking pinch-hitter Matt Duffy on four pitches to load the bases. Hand fell behind, 3-0 to Mallex Smith, but then worked the count full and induced an inning-ending flyout. Hand worked a clean eighth to bridge the gap to Cody Allen in the ninth.
"That was rough for about eight pitches," Francona said. "But, [Hand] fights his way back and then he goes right back out there and gets them out."
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Indians debut of Josh Donaldson, who was activated off the disabled list prior to the game. The third baseman -- acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays on Aug. 31 -- made hard contact three times, but went 0-for-4 in his first game for Cleveland. Donaldson had an average exit velocity of 100.9 mph, but flew out to deep center and right, and grounded into a fielder's choice.
"He looked to me like Donaldson," Francona said. "By that, I mean he took some ferocious swings and he's on so many pitches. He squared up a couple, but he didn't have anything to show for it. But, he's got time. It gets exciting, man."
The highlight of Donaldson's Tribe debut came in the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay's C.J. Cron sent a sharp grounder up the third-base line. Donaldson used a slick backhanded grab to glove the grounder and then made a strong throw across the diamond to first baseman Yonder Alonso for an inning-ending out.
Each member of the Tribe's starting lineup Tuesday night has made an All-Star team at least once in his career. The last time Cleveland fielded a lineup featuring nine All-Stars was Oct. 2, 1999, against Toronto. That lineup included Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Harold Baines, David Justice, Travis Fryman and Sandy Alomar Jr.
HE SAID IT
"That's unbelievable, man. Right after that, I looked at the umpire and I was like, 'Man, that's seven years he's done that.' I don't even know how that feels, man. It takes me two, three years to hit 30 and these guys do it on a regular basis. It's pretty unbelievable and I'm very honored to be playing with him and calling him a teammate." -- Gomes, on Encarnacion
"[Adam] Plutko came to me before the game and said I was the only guy in the lineup that wasn't an All-Star. And six of them being multiple-time All-Stars. That's pretty incredible. It's exciting to be a part of this team right now." -- Bieber
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (16-8, 4.31 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe on Wednesday when the Indians wrap up the series with the Rays with a 1:10 p.m. ET tilt at Tropicana Field. In his past 12 outings, Carrasco has turned in a 2.24 ERA with 98 strikeouts against 12 walks in 72 1/3 innings. Tampa Bay will counter with lefty Blake Snell (18-5, 2.06).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.