CLEVELAND -- What happened on Sunday wasn't supposed to happen. Not in Cleveland. Not the way the Rays have been playing. Not the way it unfolded.
Only it did happen.
The Rays scored three in the ninth to take a 7-6 win over the Indians at Progressive Field with 19,163 watching.
By winning, the Rays managed to earn a split of the four-game series, and they now head into the All-Star break with a 45-41 record and still in the hunt in the American League East.
"It feels like a big relief right now," Ben Zobrist said. "Going into the break, we were reeling a little bit -- and getting that kind of win to finish off the first half, it's just a much better feeling as a team getting ready for Friday."
The Indians took a 6-4 lead into the ninth, bringing in All-Star closer Chris Perez to try and finish off the win. But Rays hitters had other ideas -- even if they did strike out 39 times in the four-game set, and 14 times on Sunday.
Will Rhymes started the rally when he got every bit of his 5-foot-9, 155-pound frame into a Perez fastball and came away with his first home run of the season -- and second of his career -- which he deposited into the right-field stands.
"I don't hit very many, but I do tend to know when I get one," Rhymes said. "I ran today because I wasn't sure if I got it or not."
Elliot Johnson followed with a single to center to bring Carlos Pena to the plate. Knowing that Perez was slow to the plate and that he represented the tying run, Johnson broke for second on an attempted steal. Pena swung at the pitch and sent a drive to left-center field that Michael Brantley tried to haul in with a diving catch. Instead, the ball just eluded his glove, allowing Johnson to score and Pena to reach third with a triple.
"If he catches that ball, I'm doubled up because I'm already around second," Johnson said. "He made a good effort at it, but obviously it worked out in our favor."
Zobrist then singled home Pena to give the Rays a 7-6 lead.
"I felt like hitting was so contagious at that point," Zobrist said. "So when I went up there, I felt very confident we were going to get the run in, didn't really know what to look for necessarily. Fortunately, he threw me a couple of balls and I was just sitting on fastball."
Perez, who had converted 24 consecutive saves, suffered his second blown save of the season.
"I made some bad pitches today, and they hit them," Perez said.
Fernando Rodney pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the win, while earning his 25th save of the season.
Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't help but smile given the way the end played out.
"Carlos has probably hit two balls to that spot all season," Maddon said. "Rhymes has not hit a home run since 1837, and Carlos has not hit a ball to that spot since he was 10. And we won the game. That's how it works sometimes."
The Rays looked out of it from the beginning when the Indians built a 5-0 lead after five innings against James Shields, who started for the Rays on Sunday.
Shields was bitten again by the team's collective defensive problems when one of the Indians' runs scored against him was unearned.
Of course, Shields made one of the team's two errors when he threw wild to third base on a pickoff attempt of former Rays favorite Johnny Damon, who tripled to open the third.
Damon wasn't the only former Rays player to get into the action, as Casey Kotchman, Tampa Bay's first baseman a year ago, stepped into one to lead off the fourth for his eighth home run of the season. He then singled home another run in the fifth to put the Indians up, 5-0.
"Great that [Kotchman and Damon] had good games and we beat them," Maddon said. "Because they're great guys, they were a big part of what we did last year. They're wonderful teammates. ... I'm happy for their success, but I'm happier that they had that success in a loss."
Pena helped the Rays come to life in a four-run sixth by beating out a slow roller to second. Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera dropped a throw on a force play at second to help keep the rally alive. Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings then contributed two-run doubles to cut the lead to 5-4.
Shin-Soo Choo added a solo home run in the eighth off Joel Peralta to give the Indians a 6-4 lead.
The Rays are now 17-6 on getaway days this season, and Sunday brought about as sweet a getaway day as the Rays could imagine.
"I think going into the break, it's nice to get the 'W.' But being down two to one of the best, and our offense hasn't been doing that great, to come up with that," Johnson said. "... To get it right there against one of the best, it was a big confidence boost for us. Now, we're going into the break and hopefully we pick it back up after that."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.