ST. PETERSBURG -- Corey Kluber came through like an ace on Sunday, and a late home run by Austin Jackson made him a winner as the Indians claimed a 4-3 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"It's nice to pick him up -- not that he pitched [poorly]; I mean he gave up three [runs]," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But when they got the two-run homer [from Steven Souza Jr.], it's nice to see our offense -- that's two games in a row -- come back and score when he was out of the game. And if anybody deserves it, it's him."
Once Kluber finished his seventh and final inning, Jackson led off the eighth with the go-ahead homer. The Indians' offense had turned a 1-0 deficit in the ninth into a 4-1 win the last time Kluber pitched.
The Tribe (63-52) remained atop the American League Central, 4 1/2 games ahead of the Twins, while the Rays (59-60) lost for the third consecutive time as they struggle to remain in contention for the AL Wild Card, now two games behind the Angels for the second spot.
Kluber moved to 11-3 on the season after limiting the Rays to three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out nine in seven innings.
"It wasn't super crisp, but I think for the most part, I made some pitches when I needed to, aside from a couple of base hits in the third," Kluber said.
The Rays had the potential tying run at second with two outs in the ninth, but Cody Allen struck out Adeiny Hechavarria swinging for the final out while notching his 21st save of the season.
The Rays took an early lead when Jesus Sucre and Corey Dickerson pieced together one-out singles in the third against Kluber. One out later, Evan Longoria singled to left to drive home Sucre and snap the Rays' 20-inning scoreless streak.
Edwin Encarnacion added to the lead with a solo home run off Pruitt in the sixth, but Souza tied the score in the bottom half of the inning with a two-run homer off Kluber.
"[Kluber threw a] 3-2 cutter to a really strong kid," Francona said. "Fortunately for us, it didn't cost us the game."
Pruitt, who had been opposed in order by Masahiro Tanaka, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale before facing off with Kluber, came through with his third consecutive quality start, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three in six innings for a no-decision.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Loud launch: Encarnacion gave the Indians some separation in the sixth with a loud home run that traveled 426 feet to left field, according to Statcast™. His 24th home run of the season was a barreled ball that had a 110.3 mph exit velocity with a 24-degree launch angle. When the Indians slugger touched home, the Indians held a two-run lead. More >
Nine-pitch gold: Jackson battled Tommy Hunter for eight pitches leading off the Indians' eighth. With the count at 3-2, Jackson gained the upper hand on Hunter's ninth pitch when he connected on a 96-mph fastball for his fourth home run of the season and a 4-3 Indians lead.
"Nobody likes to lose," Hunter said. "... It was a big league baseball game today. It's one of those things -- sometimes you say you tip your cap to the other guy -- if that's the direction we're going to go with a home run to Austin Jackson. He pulled his hands in. That was 96-97 [mph] off the plate, and he clipped it. I'm probably going to throw that pitch a couple of hundred more times, and that result will be far from happening. You give credit where credit is due. He sucked his hand in and got the barrel to the ball."
"Maybe it's a good thing we're getting out of here for four days and heading to Toronto." -- Rays manager Kevin Cash, after Tampa Bay completed a 2-7 homestand More >
"I thought his legs were a little bit tired, which I think he'll probably acknowledge. He was only at 100 [pitches], but I just thought, 'Man, we're pushing him by sending him back out there.' They've got the top of the order up. [Bryan Shaw] hadn't pitched in a couple days. … So I just thought rather than send [Kluber] out for a couple hitters and maybe there's some traffic, and bring [Shaw] in, especially with the middle of the order, just thought we'd give Bryan a clean inning."-- Francona, on the decision to lift Kluber
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When Kluber struck out Logan Morrison in the sixth, he notched his 14th straight start with at least eight strikeouts -- the third-longest single-season streak, behind Randy Johnson's 15 straight in both 1999 and 2000.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Souza, who had walked, stole second base. The Indians challenged the safe call, but review confirmed that Souza touched the base prior to second baseman Jason Kipnis applying the tag.
The Rays optioned left-hander Jose Alvarado to Triple-A Durham after the game. They will make a corresponding move prior to Monday's game against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: The Tribe returns to Fenway Park at 6:10 p.m. ET on Monday to finish up a series finale that was postponed by rain on Aug. 2. Trevor Bauer (10-8, 4.79 ERA) will head to the hill for the Tribe, working on three straight starts of one run allowed in seven or more innings.
Rays:Jake Odorizzi (6-5, 4.38 ERA) gets the nod as the Rays open a four-game series in Toronto on Monday with a 7:07 p.m. ET contest against the Blue Jays. Odorizzi returned from the 10-day DL (lower back pain) only to get lifted after getting hit on the foot with a line drive. However, he did not miss any time and feels fine heading into his start.