MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—With a team built on speed, defense and pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays are designed to play well in any environment.
They certainly are enjoying the outdoors.
Away from the confines of their home dome, Tropicana Field, the Rays own a majors-best 27-14. Playing in the humid conditions in Minnesota’s new outdoor park fit right in with the recent trend.
Tampa Bay entered this series 17-31 all-time in Minnesota, all under the Teflon-covered roof of the Metrodome. But taking three of four at Target Field, the Rays earned their first series win against the Twins since 2007. They finished 4-2 during the road trip to Boston and Minnesota.
“I don’t have an answer,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ve been playing with a lot of energy. Maybe it’s the maturity of the group because we used to be awful on the road.”
Longoria’s two-run single highlighted a five-run seventh inning for the Rays, who won their first series in nearly a month. Tampa Bay starter James Shields(notes) earned his first win in eight starts, pitching six innings while allowing four runs and eight hits.
“When they can run around like they do, they can do some bunting and stuff, if you make a mistake they will make you pay for it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “These guys do a lot of different things. They’re a good contact team. They’ve got a couple of guys that can bang the ball. We played toe-to-toe with them. We just blew some chances to win ballgames.”
Minnesota’s Justin Morneau(notes) had two hits and an RBI after being named the American League’s starting first baseman in next week’s All-Star game in Anaheim. Jim Thome(notes) added a two-run single in the seventh, passing Andre Dawson for 34th on the all-time list with 1,592 career RBIs.
Longoria was named to his third All-Star game before combining with Rodriguez to open the scoring. Rodriguez led off with a single and scored when Longoria’s double to right just evaded the reach of a diving Michael Cuddyer(notes).
The Twins’ All-Star representatives quickly answered in the bottom of the inning.
Given a 7-1 lead, Shields (7-8) couldn’t get out of the seventh, leaving after Thome’s bases-loaded double.
The right-hander hadn’t won a start since May 20 at Yankee Stadium. He picked up a win in relief on June 19, but over his past seven starts had an ERA of 7.17.
“I’m glad I got a win, that’s fine,” Shields said. “But the more important thing is that we’re starting to play a little better baseball. We’re showing more fight through the nine innings.”
Shields’ regression mirrored his club’s struggles.
Through 81 games, the Rays are just a game behind the pace they set in their AL pennant-winning 2008 season, but the outlook was brighter at the end of May. Since holding a majors-best 32-12 record on May 23, Tampa Bay is 16-21.
“I think this is an indication that we’re on the right track,” Longoria said. “We’re starting to turn over another leaf on the season. I think everybody is happy to see June go by and July and the halfway point get here.”
Minnesota felt returning home might be the cure for its June struggles. Yet, after taking two of three against Detroit, the Twins have lost three of their last four series and nine of 13 overall.
“Up until the seventh, I had really made just one mistake,” Blackburn said. “Obviously I left a few balls up, but that is going to happen. In the seventh inning, everything just kind of snowballed.”
Blackburn (7-6) went six innings. He allowed seven runs—four earned—and nine hits, but a costly error in the seventh aided the Rays’ big inning.
After singles by Carlos Pena(notes) and Upton, Jason Bartlett(notes) laid down a sacrifice. Blackburn fielded the ball cleanly but threw the ball wide of Morneau and down the first base line, allowing Pena to score. Two batters later, Longoria singled to center scoring two runs and Gabe Kapler(notes) added a two-run pinch-hit double.
“Get an out and you limit the damage,” Gardenhire said. “You make a mistake like that, you throw the ball away and there’s guys spinning around and you end up getting in bigger and bigger situations.”
NOTES: Along with the Mauer and Morneau selections as starters, Minnesota OF Delmon Young(notes) was one of five players on the ballot for the final AL All-Star spot. Young was 2 for 3 Sunday with his 55th RBI. He’s hitting .298 with nine home runs. … Longoria is joined on the AL roster by teammates Carl Crawford(notes) and David Price(notes). … Tampa Bay hosts Boston on Monday, concluding a stretch of five games in nine days between the two clubs. The Rays are 19-10 against division opponents this season. … The Twins are just 8-13 versus the AL East this season. … Soriano converted saves in all three of Tampa Bays wins during the series.