Twins 7, Devil Rays 5
Tampa Bay wasted Rocco Baldelli’s slam, though.
Cuddyer hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning and Punto hit his first career grand slam, leading Minnesota to a 7-5 win over the Devil Rays on Thursday.
Baldelli’s grand slam, also the first of his career, tied it at 5 in the eighth for the Devil Rays, who have lost 12 of 17 since moving a season-high two games over .500 on July 3.
“When you catch up and score four runs, you think you’d have the momentum,” Baldelli said. “We couldn’t get the job done.”
The Devil Rays deflated the Metrodome crowd with Baldelli’s homer, but Cuddyer connected on an 0-2 pitch from Travis Harper (2-2) leading off the eighth to send the Twins to their fourth straight victory.
“We were resilient enough to hang in there and stay in the game and have somebody come up with a big hit,” Cuddyer said.
Cuddyer and Punto are the latest heroes for a Twins team that’s slowly breaking out of an offensive funk. On Wednesday, the Twins—powered by Henry Blanco, Justin Morneau, Lew Ford and Luis Rivas—had a season-high 17 hits against Tampa Bay.
“A different person every day,” Cuddyer said.
After Cuddyer’s homer, Minnesota added another run on an error by right fielder Jose Cruz Jr.
Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his 27th save in 28 chances.
After Johan Santana pitched seven dominant innings for the Twins, Punto’s slam in the bottom of the seventh gave them a 5-1 lead. But Juan Rincon gave up two walks and a hit in the eighth before Baldelli connected, wasting a masterful performance by Santana.
“It hurt to see Santana walk away without the win,” Punto said.
Rincon entered the game with a 1.88 ERA, but allowed multiple earned runs for the first time since May 9 at Oakland.
J.C. Romero (5-1) got out of the eighth and earned the win.
The victory gave the Twins a sweep in the two-game series against the Devil Rays, who’ve lost six straight road games and three in a row overall.
“We’re trying to get something going again,” Baldelli said. “It’s just not happening.”
Santana, who is 6-2 in his last nine starts, gave up only three hits, including a solo homer by Geoff Blum. The left-hander struck out 10 batters for the seventh time this season—the sixth in his last seven starts.
Santana also has pitched at least seven innings in his last nine starts.
He appeared to have another win in the bag when Punto’s grand slam off Jesus Colome—a 416-foot drive that just cleared the right-field wall—broke open a 1-1 game.
With two on and one out, Stewart’s single dropped in front of a diving Cruz to load the bases. Punto, who’s started the last three games for the Twins in place of ailing shortstop Cristian Guzman, jumped on the first pitch from Colome for his second home run of the season.
Punto said he anticipated the fastball.
“I figured he’d try to get ahead,” he said.
He then sent Rincon’s 2-2 delivery into the left-center seats to bring Romero out of the bullpen and a chorus of boos from the crowd.
“(Rincon) has good stuff,” Baldelli said. “So I was trying to wait and see the pitch and put it in play.”
Tampa Bay starter Dewon Brazelton held Minnesota hitless through five innings as the Devil Rays took a 1-0 lead. But he tired in the sixth, throwing 28 pitches in the inning.
“Other than that, I’m as pleased as you can be with a loss,” Brazelton said.
Santana and Brazelton were relatively even through four innings until Blum’s two-out homer in the fifth. He lifted a 1-1 pitch just over the left-field wall for his fifth home run of the season to five Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
Jacque Jones’ RBI groundout tied it in the sixth.
The Twins activated 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (wrist) from the disabled list and optioned C Rob Bowen to Double-A New Britain. … Guzman missed his third consecutive game with back spasms and to mourn the death of his grandfather, who died early Thursday morning, manager Ron Gardenhire said. … Gardenhire rested CF Torii Hunter, but inserted him as a pinch-runner in the seventh. He stayed in the game in center. … Tampa Bay has been outscored 29-10 in its last three road games.