CLEVELAND — The Rays didn’t let this one get away.
After losing the first games of the series by giving up late runs to the Guardians, the Rays hung on Sunday for a 6-2 victory and salvaged a winning road trip as they headed home.
Tied 2-2 from the fifth on, the Rays took the lead in the eighth inning. Jose Siri drew a two-out walk and stole second, then scored on a single to right by Taylor Walls, the slick-fielding shortstop who rejoined the active roster Friday after a month-plus on the injured list.
Robert Stephenson, who is moving into the setup role with Jason Adam on the injured list, worked the eighth. After the Rays took advantage of some Cleveland sloppiness to add on three runs in the ninth, Andrew Kittredge, who last pitched Aug. 23, and Pete Fairbanks closed it out.
The Rays improved to 83-54, winning for the 21st time in their last 32 games, including nine of their last 12, 11 of 15 and 14 of 20. They avoided a sweep, and made it a winning trip to Miami and Cleveland at 3-2. And they didn’t lose any ground to the American League East-leading Orioles, who started the day with a 2 1/2-game lead and played Sunday at Arizona.
The Rays took an early 2-0 lead on a Rene Pinto homer, the Guardians got even with runs in the third and fifth off recalled rookie starter Taj Bradley, and the game stayed tied until the eighth.
The Rays were eager to welcome back Bradley to their rotation after some solid work on his pitches, and a bit of a mental break, during 4 ½ weeks at Triple A.
The Rays asked Bradley to throw his changeup more often, and to lower spots, and also to better control counts. In five starts for the Bulls he went 1-2, 2.91 and struck out 24 over 21 2/3 innings, but also walked 11.
The 22-year-old right-hander showed a little bit of all of that in working five innings on Sunday.
He held the Guardians to two runs (one earned) and only three hits, flashed his high-octane fastball in striking out seven, but walked a season-high five. He threw 86 pitches, 54 for strikes.
The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the second off Cleveland starter Xzavion Curry. Walls reached on a throwing error by second baseman Tyler Freeman, and with one out Pinto hit a two-run homer.
The Guardians got one right back. Speedy Miles Straw reached on an error by the typically sure-handed shortstop Walls, and went to second on a Jose Ramirez one-out walk.
The Rays had a chance to turn a double play on Josh Naylor’s grounder to first, but Walls’ return throw to first was high. With Straw on third, Ramon Laureano delivered an RBI single.
The Guardians tied it in the fifth. Steven Kwan drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a Bradley wild pitch, and scored on a one-out single by Naylor.
The Rays missed out on a couple of opportunities to score.
They had two on to start the fifth, but Pinto hit into a double play and Yandy Diaz flied out. They had two on with one out in the sixth, but Josh Lowe hit into a fielder’s choice out, and Siri drove a ball to the rightfield corner that Laureano made an impressive running and sliding catch on.
And, most promising, in the seventh they had two on with one out and the top of the order up against reliever Nick Sandlin. Diaz walked to load the bases, then neither Brandon Lowe nor Isaac Paredes could put the ball in play in fair territory, as both popped out to the catcher.