The Indians won a series at Tropicana Field for the first time since 2007 Sunday, hanging on for a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays for a two-games-to-one series advantage.
The Mother’s Day victory was a game that featured a 12-hit outburst by the Indians offense, led by the spark plug that is reserve outfielder Nyjer Morgan. But just as it seemed that the Tribe would cruise into Monday’s off day with an easy win, the never-quit Rays made them work for it to the point of testing the new-look bullpen that clinched a save in its first opportunity without closer John Axford.
We’ll eventually get to all of that, but let’s start at the beginning when Indians starter Josh Tomlin gave up a two-out, solo home run to Matt Joyce in the bottom of the first inning. But the lead didn’t last long, as Morgan promptly sparked the Tribe’s offense to life with an RBI check-swing bunt that tied the score in the second inning. Michael Bourn followed with a two-run double just beyond the reach of Rays right fielder Wil Myers’ outstreched glove to push the Tribe’s advantage to 3-1.
But in the fourth, the Rays’ mounted a mini rally. Ben Zobrist led off with a double and Joyce brough him home on a single to right field, trimming the Indians lead to a run. Two innings later, Yan Gomes gave the Indians some breathing room with a lead off home run to left field that ended the day for Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer, who gave up four runs on eight hits in five-plus innings.
Shortly afterwards, the Indians challenged an out ruling after a close play at first base on a Morgan bunt attempt that ended with a dangerous, albeit hustle head-first diving tumble. Following a one-minute delay, the call was overturned. Morgan then continued to manufacture the insurance run by advancing to second on a balk on Brad Boxberger (who came on in relief of Archer), took third on a wild pitch and then jogged home on Mike Aviles’ sacrifice fly.
But Morgan had one more act in this game, leading off the eighth inning with a solo home run into the right field corner that pushed the Tribe’s lead to 6-2 – a four-run lead they would need every bit of. As he rounded third, a smiling Moragn couldn’t help but let out alter ego Tony Plush a bit, flashing his signature "T" sign with his hands.
But the Rays had a final rally in them in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring two runs to pull within two before Cody Allen hit Desmond Jennings near his left wrist to load the bases with just one out. Yunel Escobar’s sacrifce fly to right field made it a one-run game, 6-5, but left the Tribe needing just one more out to get out of the inning, which Allen got by striking out pinch hitter Ryan Hanigan to end the Rays’ rally at three runs.
With the Indians clinging to a one-run, the closer-by-committee approach began with Bryan Shaw picking up the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that was aided by the outstanding defense of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s spinning throw acroos his body to first baseman Carlos Santana, who did the splits in an effort to nab Logan Forsythe at the bag. The Rays challenged the out call, but the play stood, and Shaw promptly enduced the final two outs to secure the win.