ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Ji-Man Choi hit a two-run homer off Brad Hand with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cleveland Indians 6-5 on Monday night to set a team record with their 12th straight victory at home.
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber was chased in the second inning, but the Indians rallied before blowing a late lead. They started play with a magic number of five to clinch their third consecutive AL Central championship. Second-place Minnesota was at home against the New York Yankees.
Tommy Pham grounded a single to right field before Choi went deep against Hand (0-1).
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, stole second and third, and scored 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 season 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.
Jake Bauers homered for the Rays, who moved with 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.
Six Cleveland relievers limited Tampa Bay to one hit entering the ninth.
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.
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 Miami (747,450) has 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.”
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.