Tampa Bay starter Tony Saunders took about two innings to get into a groove Saturday. Unfortunately for the Rays, that was about two innings too late.
The Rays fell behind early and were never able to catch up against Cleveland's Chad Ogea, who didn't allow a hit through 5 innings and only three in 7 innings. Cleveland won 5-1.
"I think he kicked himself after two innings and got things going a little," Rays manager Larry Rothschild said.
"He was a little different pitcher at that point. But you've got to be ready when the game starts. Whatever it takes to get you there, you've got to be there. That's all there is to it."
The first pitch was delayed 49 minutes by rain, but that had nothing to do with Saunders' slow start.
He walked three of the first four batters and was fortunate to get out of the inning having given up only one run, on Jim Thome's double off the leftfield wall.
Saunders allowed the leadoff batter to reach again in the second, when Sandy Alomar doubled into the leftfield corner, and gave up another run after an error by second baseman Miguel Cairo and a double by Omar Vizquel down the third-base line.
Then Saunders retired nine of the next 11 and gave up just one unearned run. He didn't walk another batter, struck out a season-high eight and allowed eight hits.
"I like the way he finished up, but you've got to be ready to start the game with the aggressive attitude," Rothschild said.
"There was nothing wrong with the way he threw the ball. At the start of the game you've got to be aggressive in the strike zone. You've got to be ready out of the chute. Some days that's the only chance you get. You give up runs there, that's it."
Saunders didn't have an explanation for his early-inning performance.
"If I did, I wouldn't have done it," he said. "Today was just one of those days where it's frustrating but there's nothing you can do about it."
It was the second perplexing start for Saunders. Monday, he squandered a 5-0 lead and lost to Oakland 7-6.
Saunders said he didn't think the Indians hit him hard, despite the three doubles.
"Every ball they hit found a hole," he said. "There's nothing you can do about that. I made some good pitches, they put them in play and found holes."
Ogea, meanwhile, didn't have to do any explaining. "I just went right after them," he said.
A 24-year-old right-hander who won twice in the World Series last year (against Saunders' and Rothschild's Marlins), Ogea dominated from the start Saturday. He threw strikes (on the first pitch to 16 of the first 23 batters) and worked fast with an effective curveball.
"He was ahead of everybody and gave us no chance to get anything going," Rays DH Paul Sorrento said.
Added shortstop Kevin Stocker: "He pitched a great game. We were swinging the bats and missing everything."