CLEVELAND (AP) — It was Tampa Bay's turn for some late-inning magic at Progressive Field.
The Rays were long overdue for some.
After dropping the first two games in the series by one run, Tampa Bay salvaged the finale on Sunday as Taylor Walls drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Rays held on for a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Guardians, who missed a chance to gain ground on Minnesota in the AL Central.
Including the postseason, Tampa Bay had played eight straight one-run games against the Guardians in Cleveland and gone 1-7 with six straight losses.
No wonder the Rays were feeling relived before their flight home.
“They’ve had our number for the past year or two,” Walls said. “They took the first two, so it was huge to come back and get this one, especially at this point in the season when every game matters. It’s big.”
Walls lined a single to right off Trevor Stephan (6-5) to bring home Jose Siri, who slid headfirst and safely around rookie catcher Bo Naylor's attempted sweep tag. Siri had walked with two outs and stole second to set the table for Walls.
René Pinto hit a two-run homer for the Rays, who added three more runs in the ninth off Cleveland reliever Eli Morgan.
Although his team had some rough moments in the field — Tampa Bay had two errors, and Cleveland three — Rays manager Kevin Cash left feeling satisfied.
“Well, it makes for a better flight,” he said. “I don’t know the level of importance. We’ve put ourselves in pretty good position where we’re at. We want to continue to play good baseball. Getting a win here was nice. It’s been challenging both this year and last year multiple times.”
The Guardians got only five hits and stayed five games behind the first-place Twins with the season growing short. Minnesota, which lost 6-5 at Texas, opens a critical three-game series in Cleveland starting Monday.
Tampa Bay reliever Colin Poche (10-3) got the win, and Pete Fairbanks snuffed a ninth-inning threat for his 19th save.
Josh Naylor had an RBI in his return for Cleveland.
Playing for the first time since July 31, when he strained an oblique, the Guardians' slugger delivered a game-tying RBI single in the fifth off Rays starter Taj Bradley to tie it 2-all.
The Guardians have missed Naylor's presence in the middle of their lineup, but now have him back for the season's most meaningful stretch.
“We’re going to have keep an eye on him, but it’s nice to have him back," manager Terry Francona said. "He got a base hit to drive in a big run, and as he stays healthy, I don’t see that not continuing.”
Cleveland right fielder Ramón Laureano kept it tied in the sixth with a sliding catch on the warning track to take extra bases away from Siri.
With two Rays on base, Laureano sprinted into the right-field corner and nabbed Siri's shot just before it touched down.
Bradley's first appearance for the Rays since July 29 was also his first against Cleveland and the AL Central.
The rookie right-hander started strongly this season, going 3-0 in April before he began to struggle in June. The Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham after he went 0-3 with a 7.89 ERA in July. He was recalled Sunday when Tampa Bay placed reliever Jason Adam (oblique) on the injured list.
Bradley, who walked five and struck out seven, said the stay in the minors was helpful.
“It was just about having fun again,” he said.
Tampa Bay's Robert Stephenson came oh-so-close to a baseball rarity on Saturday.
Stephenson struck out the side on nine pitches — an immaculate inning — in the 10th inning of a 7-6 loss, but was not credited with one because the Rays intentionally walked Giménez with two outs.
While there is no “official” definition of an immaculate inning, Stephenson did not get one because he allowed a baserunner.
The Rays have had three of the 114 recorded immaculate innings. Cleveland has four.
Rays: Adam, who has appeared in a team-high 55 games, had been bothered by his oblique for several days, and the Rays were hoping rest would help before they decided to put him on the IL. An MRI confirmed the strain. Adam is confident he'll be back for the end of the season.
Rays: Open a three-game series at home against Boston with RHP Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.64 ERA) facing Red Sox RHP Brayan Bello (10-8, 3.57).
Guardians: RHP Lucas Giolito (7-11, 4.45) makes his debut for Cleveland, which made a stunning move by claiming him and two relievers off waivers last week from the Los Angeles Angels. Pablo López (9-7, 3,72) starts for the Twins.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press