Kelly Johnson, signed as a free agent from Toronto two months ago, slugged a two-run home run to back the stellar pitching of Alex Cobb, who allowed only four hits in 71/3 innings while striking out six in his first start of the year.
Before an announced Tropicana Field crowd of 32,217, Joel Peralta closed the eighth inning by forcing a pair of foul outs and Cesar Ramos finished up with a scoreless ninth as Cleveland was blanked for the second consecutive evening.
"We’re always sharing a little friendly competition among the starters," said Cobb, who followed up a strong outing by Matt Moore on Friday night. "Every time one of us gets the ball, we’re trying to go nine."
The Rays ran the bases aggressively all evening, but the game began on a passive note as Tampa Bay capitalized on the early wildness of 22-year-old rookie right-hander Trevor Bauer. The first four Rays batters drew bases on balls, capped by a bases-loaded walk to Evan Longoria.
At that point, Bauer had thrown only 10 strikes in 26 pitches and appeared destined for an early exit.
After James Loney fouled out, Matt Joyce was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw by right fielder Ryan Raburn, who fielded Yunel Escobar’s liner and made an accurate one-hop throw to catcher Lou Marson.
Marson figured prominently again two innings later, but he may have paid a heavy price for his efforts.
Desmond Jennings led off the third with one of Bauer’s seven walks and promptly stole second and third. With no one out, Jennings broke for home on contact as Matt Joyce bounced a chopper to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, but Marson blocked the plate and the throw had Jennings beat.
Jennings plowed over Marson, who managed to hold on to the ball even as he was upended in a jarring collision that stopped play for several minutes while Marson was checked out. He remained in the game but left in the fourth with a cervical neck strain.
In the seventh, Indians rookie reliever Cody Allen plunked Longoria with a pitch to the posterior that prompted a warning to both dugouts by home plate umpire Dale Scott.
Rays manager Joe Maddon offered little doubt it was an act of retaliation by Allen for the Jennings-Marson collision, but he exempted Indians manager Terry Francona from any responsibility.
"It’s pretty much a consensus opinion that he did it intentionally," Maddon said. "However, I’ll say one thing unequivocally — I know it didn’t come from Tito. He would not do that. It was a clean baseball play that did not deserve that kind of retaliation. The concern that they should have over there is that that’s how you get players hurt on your team."
The Rays extended their lead to 3-0 against Bauer in the fourth when Jose Molina singled and Johnson deposited an 0-1 pitch into the seats in right field for his first home run in a Rays uniform.
"It’s always nice to get it out of the way," Johnson said. "I felt like we should have been up 6-0 at that point, but you look up and they’re still there."
Escobar led off Tampa Bay’s sixth inning by stretching a single into a double on a close call that Cleveland disputed. Shelley Duncan’s RBI single made it 4-0 and Loney added a two-run double in the eighth as the Rays improved to 3-2 before the season-opening homestand closes this afternoon.
The Rays continued to play stellar defense behind Cobb, who won 11 games in 2012 but is beginning his first full season in the majors. Cobb walked three but spotted his 92-mph fastball when it counted in throwing 103 pitches, 64 for strikes.
"Alex is really good and he’s going to be even better," Maddon said.