CLEVELAND - The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays hope to rest, regroup, then resume baseball's feel-good story after finishing the first half on a sour note.
Jhonny Peralta drove in three runs and the Cleveland Indians beat Scott Kazmir and Tampa Bay, 5-2, yesterday, handing the Rays their season-worst seventh straight loss and dropping them out of first in the AL East.
"I hate what just happened this week, but we're sitting in a very good spot," manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays' skid is their longest since an eight-game losing streak last July. They had won seven in a row to open a five-game lead over the Red Sox last Monday. The Red Sox now lead by a half-game.
"We totally massacred our seven-game winning streak," said Maddon, adding that he'll meet with the club Thursday before opening the second half with a six-game homestand.
The Indians entered the series having lost 10 straight, their worst streak since 1979, but outscored the Rays, 31-8, to extend their home winning streak over Tampa Bay to 13. The Rays have not won in Cleveland since Sept. 29, 2005, and dropped 18 of the last 20 meetings overall.
The Rays went hitless after the third inning against Indians starter Jeremy Sowers and four relievers.
Peralta's two-run homer off Kazmir (7-5) in the fifth gave Cleveland a 4-2 lead. Tom Mastny (1-2) pitched two perfect innings to earn the win and Masa Kobayashi, the Indians' fifth pitcher, worked the ninth for his fifth save.
After Sowers issued a pair of one-out walks in the fourth, he struck out B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena to start a string of the final 17 Tampa Bay batters going down in order.
Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the second despite not putting a ball in play. Sowers walked four, committed a balk, and struck out the side during a strange 41-pitch inning that included Indians manager Eric Wedge's ejection by plate umpire Kerwin Danley.
After fanning All-Star Evan Longoria, Sowers walked Jonny Gomes. With an 0-2 count on Shawn Riggans, Gomes broke for second as Sowers threw to first and Danley ruled the lefthander balked. Wedge yelled from the dugout in protest.
After Gomes stole third and Riggans also walked, Wedge questioned Danley's strike zone, too, and was tossed for the third time this season.
Sowers fanned Ben Zobrist, then walked both Gabe Gross and Akinori Iwamura to force in a run.
"The umpire had a pretty tough strike zone, but I have to do a better job earlier in the game of earning the zone," Sowers said. "It was a pretty bizarre inning."
Riggans's RBI single in the third made it 2-0 but Cleveland tied it in the bottom half. Franklin Gutierrez singled off Longoria's glove at third, took third on Jamey Carroll's one-out single, and scored on Ben Francisco's hit to right. Peralta drove in Carroll with a sacrifice fly.
All-Star Grady Sizemore opened the Indians' fifth with a walk and scored on Peralta's two-out homer, the shortstop's 16th of the season and fourth in seven games.
Andy Marte made it 5-2 with a leadoff homer in the sixth.
"We played some pretty good baseball the last four days against a very good team," Wedge said.
Sowers had the oddest outing of his young career. He gave up three hits and two runs over four innings, setting career highs of seven walks and eight strikeouts. In his first 196 innings in the majors, he had only 53 walks and 77 strikeouts.
Kazmir, one of Tampa Bay's three All-Stars, gave up five runs and eight hits over six innings, dropping to 1-4 in his last seven starts since June 11 following a six-game winning streak.
"It's been a great first half," Kazmir said. "There are going to be times like this in a season. We're going to go through a bump or a slow stage, but we have to be able to bounce back. We have to not dwell on this."