CLEVELAND — With the Rays' equally puzzling and frustrating losing streak at Progressive Field officially over after Saturday's 6-3 win over the Indians, manager Joe Maddon was in a good enough mood to joke.
"I didn't know it was as easy as acquiring an Indian, and all of a sudden you have a chance to win," he said. "There's got to be some form of reconciliation the moment you take a former tribesman and bring him on your team. The voodoo gods, they lightened up (Saturday)."
Yes, the Rays snapped an 18-game losing streak in Cleveland — dating to September 2005 — on the same night that former Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach made his first start for Tampa Bay at Progressive Field. Shoppach did have a big hit, a two-out single that sparked a tying three-run rally in the fifth.
But for the Rays (58-38), the feel-good win, which brought them to within three games of the AL East-leading Yankees, was a team effort, and far from easy.
Early, it appeared Indians right-hander Mitch Talbot, a former Rays prospect, was on track for a special night. Admittedly more pumped up facing his former team, Talbot came out firing, striking out a club-record-tying six straight starting with the second batter of the game.
"I thought I saw Denny McLain," said Maddon, referring to the 31-game winner for the Tigers in 1968.
Said first baseman Carlos Peña: "He's got electric stuff. He's got an unbelievable changeup; it's one of the best I've seen."
Meanwhile, Rays left-hander David Price wasn't as sharp, with the two Indians he walked in the first two innings eventually scoring, on a Shin-Soo Choo double in the first and a Shelley Duncan two-run homer in the second.
But after Talbot held the Rays to one hit through four innings, that changed in the fifth, and it was Shoppach — acquired by the Rays in an offseason trade of Talbot — who started the rally with a two-out single. Jason Bartlett followed with a single, and both scored on a Ben Zobrist replay-assisted, three-run homer to left.
Zobrist's 395-foot blast, originally scored a triple, hit off the black railing above the leftfield wall. After Maddon argued his case, it took only 80 seconds for the umpires to make it Zobrist's first homer since June 9.
Zobrist said he originally didn't think it was out, and considering how he was "scuffling just to hit it hard … I would have been happy with double or triple or whatever it ended up as," he said. "So the fact it was a home run just made it a little bit sweeter."
The Rays then chased Talbot in the sixth, after Peña's go-ahead solo homer and B.J. Upton's RBI double.
"We just kept coming," Peña said. "We could have gotten discouraged after such a difficult start. It was about tenacity, staying with our plan."
Price settled in, scattering three hits over seven innings for his AL-high-tying 13th win of the season, putting the forgettable Cleveland streak in the books.
"I think after last year it was kind of like, all right, we're going to win at some point, just don't worry about it," Zobrist said. "Then, (Friday) night, we lose in a rain-shortened game, you just shrug your shoulders and say it's going to end soon, because the odds were in our favor."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.