Indians end first half with brooms
Peralta, bullpen continue hot streak to dominate Rays
CLEVELAND -- In a season filled with many unanswered questions, the Indians were able to figure out a simple equation this weekend.The Tampa Bay Rays, plus Progressive Field, equals Tribe wins. But for manager Eric Wedge, there was much more to take away from the Tribe's four-game sweep, which was capped Sunday with a 5-2 victory -- the club's 13th straight over the American League East-leading, but suddenly punchless, Rays at Progressive Field. Tampa Bay's loss and Boston's win dropped the Rays out of first. Four days removed from a closed-door meeting prompted by the CC Sabathia trade and a 10-game losing streak, the Indians have put together arguably their best stretch of the disappointing 2008 season as they head into the All-Star break. "We put some things behind us," Wedge said. "And we were able to get back to what we do best: play good baseball." The makings of Sunday's win seemed to encompass what it took the Tribe to win the three games before it -- an effort spawned by a few reliable characters and a couple surprises. "Today," Wedge said, "was a great example of a very good win with so many people contributing and stepping up." To begin with, there was the Indians starter on this day, Jeremy Sowers. Fresh off a seven-run, 10-hit effort Tuesday at Detroit, Sowers kept himself busy with a high pitch count and left the fielders behind him kicking dirt as he racked up career highs in both strikeouts (eight) and walks (seven) in four innings of work. He allowed the Rays to score a run in a 41-pitch second inning, when he walked the bases loaded with his fourth free pass of the inning, but was able to escape the jam with a strikeout, his third of the frame. Wedge, who highly endorsed the lefty after his previous rough start, was again left smitten with Sowers' "stuff." "His stuff was as good as I've ever seen his stuff," Wedge said. "He is most definitely getting better. I know he threw a lot of pitches, but he struck out eight guys in four innings. That's not his game, but I think that reveals a great deal about what kind of stuff this young man has." Wedge didn't have an up-close view of Sowers' stuff for long, though. He picked up his third ejection of the season in the second inning after yelling at home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley from the dugout after a Sowers walk. "I wasn't happy about a couple different things in a short period of time," Wedge said. "And I don't think he was really happy with me." For what Sowers lacked in control, he made up with composure, limiting the Rays to two runs while leaving eight runners in scoring position in a start he could only label as "bizarre." "That's definitely not something to be proud of," Sowers said. "It was weird, but we came out on top, so it's a little easy to get over that." Sowers didn't leave on top, but he didn't leave behind, either. An RBI single from Ben Francisco and a Jhonny Peralta sacrifice fly in the third inning tied it up and assured Sowers' fate of a no-decision. Peralta, one of the familiar characters of the Tribe's big weekend, kept his hot streak going with a two-run homer off Scott Kazmir, which scored Grady Sizemore and gave the Indians their first lead of the game. "He's really stepped up for us in that cleanup spot," Wedge said. "That's as consistent as we've ever seen him now for well over a month, probably even longer than that." The two-run advantage was plenty on this day for the all-of-a-sudden dependable Tribe bullpen. Tom Mastny, Ed Mujica, Rafael Perez and Masa Kobayashi combined for five perfect innings of relief. "I think the guys down in the bullpen understand that we're looking for people to step up," Wedge said. "We saw multiple people step up in this series, and we still need to see more." One player that the Indians have waited to step up since 2006, Andy Marte, put the exclamation point on the feel-good series with a sixth-inning home run -- his first since April 4, 2007. "It was awesome, it was the best feeling," Marte said. "I've been waiting for this for the whole season and it happened today. And we won, so I feel pretty good." Yes, for a brief moment at least, the 41-53, last-place Indians are feeling good about themselves heading into the four-day All Star break -- quite a change considering where the club was at four days prior. "We played some pretty good baseball over the last four days," Wedge said. "It was more typical of what you expect from our guys."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.