ST. PETERSBURG -- It is not Josh Tomlin's fault that vertigo seems to set in when the Indians' offense steps to the plate with the bases loaded. But there stood the Cleveland pitcher on Tuesday night, kicking himself over his brief lapse in command.
The way Tomlin saw things, the damage done by his missteps in the first inning was what sent the Tribe tumbling to a 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. A good starter never blames the hitters for a lack of support, and Tomlin was not going to be the one to break that code among ballplayers.
"Those mistakes that I made early on in the game ended up beating us," Tomlin said.
That was true only in the sense that Tomlin surrendered more runs that the Indians (46-44) could score, sending the club to the loss column for the fifth time in eight games. The real issue, however, was that the Tribe's lineup ran into an unfortunate case of deja vu by falling short again with the bases loaded.
It has been an ugly trend for Cleveland this season. On Monday night, the Indians pulled off a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay, despite coming up empty in a bases-loaded situation with no outs in the fourth inning. As fate would have it, Cleveland was given an identical situation in the same inning on Tuesday night.
The Indians scored a run this time, but that provided only a sliver of solace.
"We just, unfortunately, couldn't do much offensively," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We just couldn't get that hit to get us over the hump."
Cleveland certainly had its chances.
With Tampa Bay (47-44) holding a 3-0 lead in the fourth, Rays lefty Matt Moore yielded a leadoff single to Asdrubal Cabrera before issuing consecutive walks to Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley to load the bases. Jose Lopez followed with a sacrifice fly, putting the Indians on the board.
From there, though, Carlos Santana struck out and Shelley Duncan flew out to center field, ending Cleveland's short-lived rally. In the fifth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single, but Lopez ended the frame with a flyout to left field -- again with the bags full.
On the season, the Indians are now hitting .195 (16-for-82) with the bases loaded and just .114 (4-for-35) with the bases loaded and two outs. Over the past three games, Cleveland has come up with just three hits in 27 at-bats (.111) overall with runners in scoring position.
"Everybody is going to home plate trying to bring the guys in," Lopez said. "If it doesn't happen, it's part of the game. Every time we get bases loaded no outs, we get a chance to score a lot of runs. For the team, it's not happening right now. We'll keep pushing."
Such offensive struggles tend to magnify other miscues (such as Tomlin's in the first inning), as well as missed calls (Acta felt umpire CB Bucknor made a costly ruling in the sixth).
After reaching on a fielder's choice grounder, Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings stole second base with two outs. On the play, which was extremely close, Cabrera felt he applied the tag in the nick of time. Bucknor disagreed and called Jennings safe, infuriating the shortstop and forcing Acta from the dugout for a brief argument on the field.
Jose Lobaton followed with an RBI single to right field to put Cleveland behind, 4-2.
"It's unfortunate," Acta said. "It's part of the game, but [Tomlin] got out of the inning. The guy was out at second base. But what are you going to do? You can't blame it on the umpire, but he was out. I just didn't find anything tricky about the play. The throw beat the guy. Clean tag. Out. [Bucknor] didn't see it that way."
Tampa Bay's two-run cushion was enough for the team's bullpen to use to its advantage. Following Moore's five frames, in which he gave up two runs on three hits with five walks, the Tribe's bats were quieted down the stretch. Rays closer Fernando Rodney picked up his 27th save by slamming the door in the ninth.
Tomlin (5-6), meanwhile, absorbed the loss after recovering from a rocky opening frame en route to 5 2/3 admirable innings for the Indians. The Rays went 4-for-19 against the right-hander after coming out of the gates with a 3-for-5 showing in the first.
B.J. Upton led off the first inning with a single and Carlos Pena followed by ripping a 1-1 fastball from Tomlin into the right-field seats for a home run. Late in the inning, Luke Scott yanked a pitch into the corner in right for a run-scoring triple.
That swift three-run deficit proved to be too much for the Indians to overcome.
"It's tough putting the guys in a hole like that," Tomlin said. "It's tough to battle back from that. I've got to do a better job of limiting the damage right there."