The Rays continued their winning ways Sunday, using their familiar formula of strong pitching and timely hitting in completing the sweep of the Twins. The victory marks six in a row for the Rays, the third time this season they've achieved that feat. They'll stay atop the wild card standings and with the Yankees' loss in Toronto move within five games of first place in the division.
It was a tense game for the first nine innings. The Rays took an early lead thanks to a lead off home run by Desmond Jennings and extended the lead to two when Jeff Keppinger lead off the second with a solo blast. The Twins came back to tie the game in the bottom of the frame on a Justin Morneau home run after Keppinger dropped a Willingham groundball. The Twins would score another run on a Joe Mauer single in the third but that would prove to be their last of the day. James Shields wasn't pretty today but all told pitched well, working seven innings and giving up two earned runs.
The Twins put a man in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings but Shields was able to escape each time. The latter two innings were the hairiest with the lead off hitter reaching second each time. Some good pitching by Shields and excellent defensive positioning enabled the Rays get out with the score still tied. He didn't have his best stuff today -- he only struck out two -- and had location issues early on but recovered to go seven innings for the third start in a row. I'll take two earned runs on six baserunners in seven innings every day.
After being held scoreless for the previous four innings the Rays were finally able to push one, plus a few more, across in the tenth. Jennings lead off with a sharp single to center, reaching base for the third time, then promptly stole second. After a walk to B.J. Upton the Rays successfully sacrificed with Ben Zobrist, putting runners at second and third with one out. The Twins intentionally walked Evan Longoria to load the bases. This brought up Jeff "Mr. Contact" Keppinger. The ideal situation would have been a base hit or a sacrifice fly, but instead Keppinger hit a ground ball to shortstop Brian Dozier, who charged the ball but for some reason went to first instead of throwing home to try and get the go ahead runner Jennings. When the inning was over the broadcast showed Dozier and Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire having a long, no doubt pointed, discussion on the bench.
After Carlos Pena was hit by a pitch and Ryan Roberts delivered the knockout blow with a two run single to right, extending the Rays lead to three. Matt Joyce, pinch hitting for Sean Rodriguez, singled to center to push the lead to four. J.P. Howell got the first two outs in the ninth before Fernando Rodney slammed the door for his 36th save of the season.
Now the team heads to Seattle to face the Mariners who just did the Rays a favor in taking two of three from the Angels over the weekend. Hopefully they'll lay down and let Moore, Cobb and Hellickson walk all over them.