Tampa Bay’s surge is causing more frustration for the Minnesota Twins.
Looking for a sixth straight victory, the Rays try to complete their first series sweep of the struggling Twins in almost 10 years when the teams conclude their four-game set Sunday at Tropicana Field.
After hitting a game-winning homer in the 10th inning of Thursday’s 4-3 win over Minnesota, Johnny Damon(notes) gave Tampa Bay (6-8) another 4-3 victory Saturday with a game-ending RBI single in the ninth.
The reigning AL East champion Rays have won six of eight since starting 0-6, and are in position to sweep the Twins (4-10) for the first time since Aug. 10-13, 2001, the season before Ron Gardenhire became Minnesota’s manager.
“We just do not quit,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “We keep grinding out at-bats, getting one more run.”
Minnesota, which has led in each game of the series, has lost four in a row and six of seven.
“We could have, potentially, won all three games,” said Twins starter Scott Baker(notes), who had been in line for Saturday’s win until closer Joe Nathan(notes) blew the save in the ninth. “We play as a team. We’re just not getting it done right now. There’s no panic button being pushed.”
Damon is batting .345 in his last seven games versus Minnesota, and .306 with 12 RBIs during an eight-game overall hitting streak for his new team.
“I’m starting to get that comfortability with my teammates right now,” said Damon, who was 0 for 19 in his first five games. “I wouldn’t be in that situation if my teammates didn’t help me get there.”
The right-hander allowed two runs and overcame five walks in 5 1-3 innings of a 16-5 win at Boston on Monday. Hellickson has gone at least five innings in each of his six career starts, going 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA.
“He’s a pretty mature kid,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the Rays’ official website. “The kid knows how to pitch. He doesn’t get predictable.”
Hellickson defeated the Twins in his major league debut Aug. 2 at Tropicana Field, giving up two runs and three hits in seven innings of a 4-2 victory.
Minnesota counters with Brian Duensing(notes) (0-0, 4.15), who has nothing to show for a pair of decent outings this season. He allowed three runs in six innings of a 4-3, 10-inning win over Kansas City on Tuesday.
The left-hander took a ground ball off his shin in that contest, but is expected to take the mound for the finale of this series.
In his only previous start versus Tampa Bay, Duensing allowed three runs in six innings but did not factor in the decision of a 6-4 loss at Tropicana Field on Aug. 3.
Center fielder Denard Span(notes) had three hits with an RBI on Saturday for the Twins, who are averaging 2.9 runs this season and have scored three or fewer in 10 of their 14 games. Minnesota is 3 for 23 with runners in scoring position in this series.
Span has been a recent bright spot, batting .393 over his last six games.
Nathan allowed a game-tying homer to Ben Zobrist(notes) before Damon’s big hit Saturday, blowing his second save in three days. The All-Star closer, who missed all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery, has converted just one of four save chances versus Tampa Bay since the start of 2009, posting a 13.50 ERA in that span.