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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," Tampa Bay 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 last Monday.
"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, who fell a half-game behind Boston for the division lead, went hitless after the third inning against Indians starter Jeremy Sowers and four relievers.
"We played poorly here," Maddon said. "We're not swinging the bats. We pitched less. Defensively, everything was just out of our reach. They outplayed us."
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 left-hander 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' 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 base 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. The left-hander 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, the first-round pick in the 2004 draft had only 53 walks and 77 strikeouts.
Kazmir gave up five runs and eight hits over six innings, falling to 1-4 in his last seven starts.
"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."
NOTES: According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Indians' home winning streak over Tampa Bay is the longest current one of its kind in the majors. The Indians defeated the Detroit Tigers 15 straight in Cleveland from 1994 to 1997. ... Marte's homer was his first in the majors since April 4, 2007. ... Sizemore has 23 homers and is the first Indians player to lead the AL in that category at the All-Star break since Jim Thome (26) in 2001.
NEW YORK - Cleveland's Cliff Lee is expected to start for the American League in tomorrow night's All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, an incredible turnaround for a pitcher who was demoted to the minors last year.
"I haven't heard who is starting and it isn't something I can control, so I don't worry about it," Lee said. "When I was a kid, I watched games on TV and dreamed of pitching in the majors. I watched the All-Star game and had the same dream."
The 29-year-old left-hander is 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA after compiling a 0.67 ERA during his first seven starts. He was 18-5 in 2005 but went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA last year, and was optioned to the minors for more than a month.
"Last year taught me a lot," Lee said. "I can't put my finger on it other than to just say I'm more experienced. To stick in the big leagues, you have to make adjustments. Everybody else is figuring you out, watching video, and learning what you do. You have to stay ahead of the curve, adjust, and make them readjust again."
Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said Lee has turned what used to be a fault into a strength - his stubbornness.
"He's always had a lot of confidence in his abilities, and with good reason," Willis said. "Sometimes, that got in his way because he felt he was going to throw his fastball, no matter the count, no matter the situation."
Among those who could start for the NL are Cincinnati's Edinson Volquez, the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, Arizona's Dan Haren and Milwaukee's Ben Sheets.40.71455 -74.00713