ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Indians rolled out their new four-headed, eight-armed closer for the first time on Sunday. It batted .500, which is great for a hitter, but not so good for a pitcher working the late innings of a tight game.
Bryan Shaw and Scott Atchison were on the plus side. Mark Rzepczynski and Cody Allen were on the negative side, but it all worked in the end as the Indians beat the Rays 6-5 at Tropicana Field to win their first series here since 2007.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos
The Indians have won seven of their last 10 games and three straight series.
The Rays, trailing 6-2, rallied for three runs in the eighth as Rzepczynski made a costly error and Allen couldn't find the strike zone. Shaw brought calm to the situation as he retired the Rays in order in the ninth for his second save of the season.
Atchison, meanwhile, did his thing in the seventh, recording two outs before making way for Rzepczynski to deal with the Rays' lefties.
Manager Terry Francona on Saturday told Rzepczynski, Allen, Shaw, and Atchison that they would replace deposed closer John Axford, until he was ready to reclaim his job.
"We all know John Axford is struggling a little bit," Shaw said. "We all know Ax is going to come back. Hopefully, the four of us can just hold his spot until he gets things in order."
Shaw, who received a great play from shortstop
Asdrubal Cabrera to retire David DeJesus to start the ninth, did not seem intimidated by the pressure of the ninth inning.
"I don't care when I pitch," he said. "It could be the sixth, seventh, 10th, 11th, or first."
Rzepczynski walked Ben Zobrist to start the eighth. He struck out Matt Joyce, but Evan Longoria singled as Zobrist went to third. James Loney sent a double-play bouncer back to the mound, but Rzepczynski's throw to second was off the mark and Cabrera had to make a barehanded stop to keep it from going into the outfield.
Zobrist scored to make it 6-3 as Allen relieved.
"I just didn't take my time on the error, but it all started with that leadoff walk for me," said Rzepczynski. "Statistically, I've been pretty successful against Zobrist, but you can't walk the leadoff guy."
Allen, who has excelled as a set-up man, gave up an RBI single to Wil Myers, hit Desmond Jennings with a pitch to load the bases, and gave up a sacrifice fly to Yunel Escobar to make it a 6-5 game.
He finally ended the inning by striking out pinch-hitter Ryan Hanigan.
Francona said if Allen had faced just one or two batters in the eighth, he may have come out for the ninth.
"You have to have a Plan A, B, and maybe C," he said.
Josh Tomlin's second quality start was lost in the bullpen turmoil. So was a showing by the offense, especially Nyjer Morgan.
Joyce gave the Rays a 1-0 lead with a ringing homer with two out in the first. Joyce would prove to be a tough out for Tomlin the rest of the afternoon.
The Indians came right back in the second to take a 3-1 lead. Two of the three runs came with two out courtesy of Michael Bourn's double against former Tribe prospect Chris Archer.
Cabrera started the rally with a one-out walk. Yan Gomes moved him to third with a single to right to bring Morgan to the plate.
Morgan swung and sent a slow roller down the third baseline as Cabrera charged home. Cabrera slid across the plate while the Rays were still waiting for the ball to roll foul. It never did as Gomes went to second and Morgan was on first with his first hit of the game.
After Mike Aviles popped out, Bourn doubled to right.
Joyce once again proved to be problematic for Tomlin in the fourth. Zobrist doubled to start the inning, Joyce singled to right to make it a 3-2 game. Joyce came into the game hitting .444 (4-for-9) with a homer against Tomlin.
Tomlin pitched his way out of the jam, but not before complicating matters by making a wide throw to first on Longoria's bouncer to the third base side of the mound. Tomlin was charged with an error, and the Rays had runners on first and second with no one out.
Loney followed with a bouncer to first that Carlos Santana bobbled, but still had time enough to start a 3-6-1 double play.
Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall threw out Myers to end the inning on a close play.
The Indians finally started to pull away in the sixth. Gomes opened with a homer to left to end Archer's day. It was his fifth homer of the season and fourth leading off an inning. Then Morgan introduced the Rays to his short game.
He greeted reliever Brad Boxberger with a disputed bunt single. Morgan toppled into first base when he lost his balance.
"I got out over my skiis," said Morgan.
Umpire James Hoye called him out. Francona challenged the call, and the replay gurus in New York ruled that Morgan was indeed safe.
Francona is 3-for-8 in challenges and two of them have involved Morgan being ruled safe at first base after initially being called out.
Morgan, from there, forced Boxberger into a balk and a wild pitch that put him at third base. Aviles delivered him with a sacrifice fly for a 5-2 lead.
In the eighth, Morgan reached into his bag of tricks and produced the long ball. He started the eighth with his first homer of the season.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.