ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon approached struggling third baseman Evan Longoria near the clubhouse with an idea before Saturday's game against the Indians.
"Promise you won't think I'm crazy,'' Maddon said to him.
"(Longoria) was expecting me to tell him I wanted him lower in the batting order. I said, 'I'd like you to lead off.' "
Mired in a 4 for 33 slide that dropped his average to .209 entering the game, Longoria responded with a single in his first at-bat and a solo home run to dead centerfield in his second, and he reached base three times.
Maddon said he wanted to take off Longoria the pressure of trying to drive in runs all the time. "Why not get out there and be driven in, and let's see how that works?'' he said.
It worked for Longoria, but not the rest of the Rays.
Tampa Bay (27-24) continued its perplexing offensive malaise at Tropicana Field in a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position to lose for the sixth time in eight games.
The Rays, who are averaging 5.5 runs on the road but an American League-worst three at home, got another solid, if not spectacular, performance from starter James Shields, who was roughed up for three runs and five hits in the first two innings but allowed only two more hits until he was replaced in the eighth.
"I made a few mistakes there in the first inning, and that ended up costing us at the end of the game,'' Shields said. "My job was to go deep in the game and try to keep us in the game as long as I can. I did my job (Saturday), but unfortunately, we lost.''
Longoria's home run in the third and Sean Rodriguez's safety squeeze bunt for a hit to score Matt Joyce in the fourth off starter Carlos Carrasco cut the Indians' lead to 3-2. That's the way it stayed until the eighth, when an error by Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist on a potential double-play ball put reliever J.P. Howell in a deep hole and the Indians scored four times without Howell recording an out. Three of the runs were unearned.
"The big play was the ground ball that could've been a double play that we did not turn in the eighth inning,'' Maddon said.
Howell made it worse by hitting the next batter, rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo, before pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan singled in two runs with a single off the top of the wall padding in leftfield.
"I've got to pick up Ben right there,'' Howell said. "I mean, he's done it for me plenty of times in the past.''
The Rays, who also got two hits each from Casey Kotchman and Rodriguez, made the Indians resort in the ninth to using closer Chris Perez, who recorded his 14th save without retiring a batter.
With the bases loaded and two out, Johnny Damon reached on an error by first baseman Matt LaPorta. But Longoria, who had walked, thought the ball was headed down the rightfield line based on the response of the crowd of 24,717. By the time he reached third, Rodriguez was forced in a rundown for the final out.
"It was a weird sequence of events,'' Longoria said. "When the ball was hit behind me, when I heard the crowd cheer, I thought it went down the line. It was just a bad baserunning mistake on my part.''
But Longoria, who missed 26 games this season with a strained oblique, felt more comfortable at the plate. "Joe, he usually presses the right buttons a lot of the time,'' Longoria said.
Did he expect to be back in the leadoff spot today in the series finale?
"I guarantee you I'll be in there,'' Longoria said. "You can bet on it with Joe. He rides the hot hand.''