ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Cleveland 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 2-1 series advantage.
The Mother's Day victory featured a 12-hit outburst by the Indians' offense, led by 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 by testing the Tribe's new-look bullpen that clinched a save in its first opportunity without closer John Axford.
"This is a tough place to play," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "They never stop playing, whether you see it in person or on SportsCenter. Not only are they a good team, they play real hard, always till the end. Finding a way to beat them here is great. I've sat in this chair too many times and have been miserable."
Morgan did his best to make sure the Indians didn't leave miserable, going 3-for-4 with a home run, three runs scored and two RBI.
"They have a fun, energetic team, but we have an energetic and fun team, too," he said.
After starter Josh Tomlin gave up a two-out, solo home run to Matt Joyce in the bottom of the first inning, Morgan 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' outstretched glove to give the Tribe a 3-1 lead against Rays starter Chris Archer.
A Ben Zobrist lead-off double and Joyce's RBI single in the fourth trimmed the Indians' lead to a run briefly. But two innings later, Yan Gomes added some breathing room with a lead-off home run that ended Archer's night.
Morgan made it a two-run inning after the Indians challenged an out ruling after a close play at first base on another Morgan bunt that ended with a hustle headfirst diving tumble.
Following a one-minute delay, the call was overturned. Morgan then continued to manufacture the run by advancing to second on a balk on Brad Boxberger (who came on in relief of Archer), taking third on a wild pitch and then jogging home on Mike Aviles' sacrifice fly.
"I knew I was safe," he said. "...It's one of things where as soon as I laid it down, I knew they have a good third baseman over there (in Evan Longoria), so I was digging for the hit and I started to get over my skis and I lost my balance and fell."
But once safe, Morgan put pressure on Boxberger with the threat of running.
"That's what I do," he said. "I'm a threat no matter how you take it. If I'm on first and Mike (Aviles) is behind me, they're gonna leave a fastball up for him.
"Even though I'm a base stealer, I can be a threat just by being out there. I know the game, and I know myself -- I'm a dangerous weapon."
Morgan joked he "had to get something out (of) the infield" when he led off the eighth inning with a solo home run into the right field corner seats that pushed the Tribe's lead to 6-2.
As he rounded third, an exuberant Morgan couldn't help but release his alter ego Tony Plush, flashing his signature "T" sign with his hands.
"Yeah, I threw up the T," he said. "Just a little one, though. I kinda short-armed it."
But the Indians needed every bit of their four-run lead as the Rays staged a final rally in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring three runs against the Tribe's reconfigured bullpen before Cody Allen halted the rally with a strikeout to end the eighth.
Clinging to a one-run, the closer-by-committee era began with Bryan Shaw picking up the save aided by the outstanding defense of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's spinning throw across his body to first baseman Carlos Santana, who did the splits in order to nab Logan Forsythe at the bag for the first out.
The Rays challenged the call, but it stood, and Shaw promptly induced the final two outs to secure the win.
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