ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay continued to devour middling teams on Monday at Tropicana Field, winning for the fifth straight time in dumping the Minnesota Twins 7-4.
The Rays improved to 50-40 and are alone in second place in the American League East. Minnesota fell to 37-49 in losing for the eighth time in 10 games. Tampa Bay took three of four at Houston and swept the White Sox at home before commencing the four-game set with Minnesota.
Alex Torres earned the win in relief. Fernando Rodney recorded his 20th save.
Tampa Bay broke open a 3-3 tie with homers from Yunel Escobar (his seventh of the season) and Ben Zobrist (his sixth) in a three-run seventh inning. Escobar's shot leading off the inning against starter Samuel Deduno gave the Rays a 4-3 lead, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went to reliever Caleb Thielbar after Desmond Jenning tripled. Thielbar, who had retired the previous 31 batters he had faced and not allowed a run in 17 appearances - encompassing the rookie's entire major league career - promptly surrendered a two-run blast to Zobrist.
Deduno (4-4) was charged with five earned runs on 10 hits with two walks in the loss.
Tampa Bay had taken a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Luke Scott belted his sixth homer of the season into the right field stands. Jose Molina's RBI single in the second imcreased the margin to 2-0. Rookie Wil Myers, who had reached on a fielder's choice and chased to third on Matt Joyce's single to right, scored on Molina's off-field slap to right. Deduno escaped further trouble when Escobar grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Minnesota halved the lead against Rays starter Roberto Hernandez in the third when Aaron Hicks led off with a double and scored on Brian Dozier's two-bagger to left. Justin Morneau's seventh homer of the season tied the game 2-2 in the fourth, and the Twins went on to take a lead in the inning despite having a runner thrown out trying to stretch a single and another picked off to end the rally.
Trevor Plouffe followed the home run with a single, took third when Oswaldo Arcia singled, although Arcia and was thrown out at second. Plouffe scored on a Chris Parmelee sacrifice fly.
The Rays tied the game 3-3 in the fifth on Evan Longoria's two-out single scoring Desmond Jennings, who had walked leading off and moved to second on a fielder's choice.
Hernandez exited after six, after striking out Pedro Florimon with the lead run on third in the fifth. He allowed three runs on eight hits and one intentional walk, with two strikeouts.
The Rays added an extra run in the eighth on an Escobar sacrifice fly.
Minnesota scored once in the ninth off Jamey Wright when Hicks banged his career-high fourth hit and scored on a Florimon single.
NOTES: Rays RHP Alex Cobb said his 47-pitch bullpen session at Tropicana Field on Monday went well, and he hopes to again begin throwing to live hitters. He is targeting the end of July or early August for his return. Cobb was struck in the head by a line drive hit by the Royals' Eric Hosmer on June 15. The bullpen session was his second. Cobb is scheduled to throw another on Thursday. ... With a first-inning home run, Scott had produced extra bases in 12 of his last 20 hits. ... Twins SP Samuel Deduno was struck above the left ankle by a one-hopper hit by James Loney in the second inning. He remained in the game. ... Loney has hits in 17 of his last 18 games. He had a 16-game streak broken on Sunday. .... Twins 2B Brian Dozier has seven doubles and 17 RBIs in 22 games since June 15.