Bieber shines in Indians' shutout loss to Rays

All-Star K's 9 in 6 1/3 innings, but Tribe's Wild Card lead is trimmed

August 31st, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hardcore. Conscientious. Good teammate. Those were the words Indians manager Terry Francona used to describe . If they sound familiar, there’s good reason.

“I find myself using the same adjectives that I was using about Corey [Kluber] seven years ago,” Francona said, “which is a big compliment to this kid.”

Bieber -- Cleveland’s likely leading candidate to start the American League Wild Card Game, should it need one -- only strengthened his bid on Friday, tossing 6 1/3 innings and striking out nine during the 4-0, series-opening loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s win streak at four games and dropped it to a half-game advantage for the first American League Wild Card spot over the Athletics, who topped the Yankees, 8-2, on Friday. The Rays remained one game behind Oakland for the second Wild Card.

Bieber made quick work of Tampa Bay through his first five frames, allowing a leadoff single to Eric Sogard before retiring the next 12 batters in order (and picking off Sogard). The Tribe’s 24-year-old had five consecutive strikeouts at one point, with movement on his pitches so great that he was able to catch many of his strikeout victims swinging wildly at pitches far out of the zone.

“He’s emerged as an All-Star-caliber pitcher, whether he made the All-Star team or not,” Francona said. “You don’t just throw harder every year; it doesn’t work like that. You know what the league’s trying to do, and you know what you’re trying to do. He’s a really smart kid.”

“I feel good; I feel like all my stuff is playing well, and I continue to get better throughout the game,” Bieber said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and continuing to do it.”

At a point in the season when all games matter, this series against Tampa Bay is particularly important. Cleveland is, of course, more interested in claiming the AL Central title, and Friday’s loss dropped the Indians to 4 1/2 games behind the Twins, their largest deficit since July 16, when they trailed Minnesota by five. 

The Indians held a half-game lead in the AL Central as recently as Aug. 12, but they have dropped nine of 16 games since then while the Twins have gone 12-4 over that same stretch. The margin for error is small in the stretch run, and any wins Cleveland can collect over the next six games could make the difference heading into a nine-day period (Sept. 6-15) during which the Tribe and Twins will play each other six times.

Bieber called the shots on Friday, permitting just three hits through his first six innings while giving his team every chance to take control of the scoreboard. The Indians’ offense struggled mightily, notching back-to-back hits just once, with two outs in the second inning.

The storyline shifted in the seventh inning. Bieber ran into trouble right away, allowing consecutive singles to open the frame. The righty rebounded to fan Ji-Man Choi, but when he allowed the next hitter, Avisail Garcia, to reach on an RBI single, Bieber’s night was through.

“It was a big at-bat,” Garcia admitted. “Just trying to focus and not try to do too much. ... [Bieber] got me twice, so just trying to be more focused and trying to help my team.”

Though Garcia’s knock was the only run the Rays would end up needing, Jesus Aguilar’s three-run homer that followed off reliever Adam Cimber swung the momentum Tampa Bay’s way for good.

At the end of it all, Bieber took just his seventh loss of the season, sporting a final line that betrayed his effort: 6 1/3 IP, 6H, 3ER, 0BB, 9K, on 109 pitches. The defeat snapped a seven-start stretch during which he worked six or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs in each, and it marked just his fourth career road loss, but it didn’t change his manager’s opinion any.

“I thought he was terrific,” Francona said. “Once he gave up a run, the last thing I wanted him to do is have to continue at a high [pitch count]. I felt bad; we ended up giving up a couple more [runs] after that. I thought he pitched his heart out, and it’s a shame that he ended up getting the loss because he pitched great.”