CLEVELAND -- The Indians have seen about enough of Jim Thome this weekend.
The former Cleveland star crushed a two-run homer in the seventh inning Saturday night to spoil a solid start from Zach McAllister, as the Indians fell to the Orioles, 3-1, in the second game of a four-game series at Progressive Field. The 41-year-old Thome played his first 12 big league seasons (1991-2002) with the Tribe, and then returned to play part of 2011 with Cleveland.
With their third consecutive loss, the Indians dropped three and a half games behind Detroit for first place in the American League Central. If the Indians lose on Sunday, they'll fall below .500 for the first time since April 14.
"He's gotten a lot of people," Indians manager Manny Acta said of Thome. "You've got to give credit to Jim. [McAllister] went after him with the fastball like he'd done all game, and Jimmy just got him."
McAllister cruised into the seventh having allowed only two hits, but J.J. Hardy led off the seventh with a single on what Acta called the only mistake pitch McAllister made all day. That set the table for Thome, who ripped a line-drive shot to the bleachers in right field to put Baltimore on top. It was Thome's second homer as a member of the Orioles, both of which have come in the first two games of the series with the Indians.
McAllister went with a fastball on the inner part of the plate, and Thome simply got the best of him.
"I stayed in there the whole game against him," McAllister said. "He missed on one in the at-bat before, and I tried to go back in there again, and he hit it."
The only other blemish on McAllister's line came in the eighth inning when he gave up a solo home run to Ryan Flaherty. McAllister was dominant otherwise, but his margin of error was slim, as the Indians offense continued to sputter. The right-hander, who dropped to 4-2 on the season with the loss, allowed only three runs on five hits over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked none.
Even in a losing effort, McAllister continued to impress since his return from Triple-A Columbus. The Indians recalled him on June 28 to replace Jeanmar Gomez as their fifth starter, and he has grown into the most consistent pitcher in the rotation. He's allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his five starts since rejoining the team, and he's struck out at least five batters in all five outings. McAllister has a 3.21 ERA in nine starts this season.
"He was terrific. He was as good as I've seen anybody here," Acta said. "He did a fantastic job. It's unfortunate that we couldn't get enough runs for him, because he certainly pitched to win today.
"It's a pleasant surprise. He's competing very well. I was expecting a couple more guys pitching better than him because of their experience, but he has been our most consistent guy as of late."
As impressive as McAllister was, the Indians offense was equally disappointing. Their only run came in the first inning, when right fielder Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a 409-foot home run to right field. It was Choo's 11th homer of the season, and his fifth to lead off a game.
But the Indians could do little more damage against Orioles starter Chris Tillman. They stranded Carlos Santana at second base after he led off the second with a double, and they failed to score in the fifth when they put two runners on with only one out. After Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan recorded back-to-back singles, Choo struck out on a pitch way out of the zone and Asdrubal Cabrera flew out to end the threat.
The Indians were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and they managed only four singles after the second inning.
Baltimore's pitching rotation was in disarray when the team arrived in Cleveland on Friday, but the Indians have made it look like one of the league's best thus far. Going back to their final game at Tampa Bay on Thursday, the Indians have scored only three runs in the last three games. They are just 3-6 since the All-Star Break, and they have scored three or fewer runs in seven of those nine games.
"I'm not going to sit here and blame everything on our hitters," Acta said, "and take anything away from what Tillman, David Price and [Miguel] Gonzalez have done over the last three days. You could call that a slump of three days, but we also have faced guys that have thrown the ball really good. If we go and hit for three days, what are you going to call it? You have to stay even-keeled, because it comes and goes."
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.