ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — With time running short and so much ground to make up, the Tampa Bay Rays will probably miss the postseason. But they certainly look like a playoff team right now.
Ji-Man Choi hit a two-run homer off Brad Hand with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Rays beat the Cleveland Indians 6-5 on Monday night to set a team record with their 12th straight victory at home.
“That was my first career walk-off homer and that was awesome,” Choi said through a translator.
The Rays have won 17 of 20 overall after a rare victory (2-51) when trailing after eight innings.
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber was chased in the second, but the Indians rallied before blowing a late lead. Even with the defeat, their magic number dropped to four to clinch their third consecutive AL Central championship when second-place Minnesota lost 7-2 to the New York Yankees.
Tommy Pham grounded a single to right field before Choi went deep against Hand (0-1). Choi entered 1 for 21 in his career against left-handers.
The Indians have lost six of 10.
It appeared Jose Ramirez’s nifty baserunning would help Cleveland overcome a poor start by Kluber.
Ramirez was hit by Chaz Roe’s pitch to start the seventh. He stole second and third before scoring to put the Indians ahead 5-4 with a headfirst slide to beat second baseman Brandon Lowe’s throw home on Yonder Alonso’s grounder.
Kluber lasted just 1 2/3 innings — matching his career low — and gave up four runs and five hits. The right-hander and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell are tied for the most wins in the majors with 18.
“I just wasn’t able to get that last out,” Kluber said.
Jake Bauers homered for the Rays, who moved within 7½ games of Oakland for the second AL wild card with 19 games left.
Jamie Schultz (2-0) worked a scoreless ninth to get the win.
Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller, reinstated from the 10-day disabled list after being out since Aug. 27 with a left shoulder injury, struck out two during a perfect sixth inning.
“Today is a really good start,” Miller said. “I’m happy with it.”
Six Cleveland relievers limited Tampa Bay to one hit entering the ninth. Indians pitchers finished with 16 strikeouts.
After striking out two during an 11-pitch first inning, Kluber was pulled after 44 pitches in the second with the Indians trailing 4-0.
Willy Adames hit an RBI single, Bauers had a two-run shot and Choi was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Bauers said about Kluber. “You’ve got to get simple and try and stick to an approach. We just made the adjustment.”
Kluber gave up two hits over seven innings in a 3-0 win against Tampa Bay on Aug. 31.
Edwin Encarnacion had an RBI single in the first and Ramirez hit a run-scoring double in the fifth.
Cleveland tied it 4-all on pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer’s two-run double in the sixth.
Pham singled in the second and has a career-high 14-game hitting streak.
The Rays became the 29th team to reach 1 million (1,006,766) in home attendance with an announced crowd of 12,724. Only the Miami Marlins (747,450) have lower attendance at home.
SETTLING THE SCORE?
Indians manager Terry Francona and Rays skipper Kevin Cash are close friends, which has led to a series of pranks. Cash stole the scooter Francona rides from his downtown apartment to the ballpark earlier this month in Cleveland. In response, Francona talked about messing with Cash’s truck. Cash joked about using Uber and Lyft on Monday. “He told me sincerely not to do anything to his truck,” a smiling Francona said. “He sounded so sad.”
The Indians are 77-4 when ahead entering the ninth inning. . Bauers’ homer was his 10th but first since Aug. 1. He has just two extra-base hits in his last 95 at-bats.
Indians: 3B Josh Donaldson (left calf) will return and start Tuesday.
Rays: CF Kevin Kiermaier (illness) and 3B Matt Duffy (lower back tightness) didn’t play.
Indians RHP Shane Bieber (9-3) and Rays RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-3) are Tuesday night’s starters.
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