ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A schedule that appears to be extremely manageable before the All-Star break only matters if they Rays exploit it, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays continued to do so Monday at Tropicana Field, beating the struggling Minnesota Twins 7-4 to climb into second place alone in the American League East.
"Everybody here has got to play the same group of teams," Maddon said after the Rays won their seventh in eight games in a stretch against the Houston Astros, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota, all teams with losing records. "I just think we're playing well."
The Rays, playing a stretch of 14 games against teams with losing records, improved to 50-40, moving 10 games above .500 for the first time this season. Tampa Bay took three of four at Houston and swept the White Sox at Tropicana Field before commencing a four-game set with Minnesota on Monday.
Minnesota (37-49) lost for the eighth time in 10 games.
Alex Torres (3-0) earned the win by pitching a scoreless seventh inning. 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 Jennings tripled. Thielbar, who had retired the previous 31 batters he had faced and had not allowed a run in 17 appearances -- encompassing the rookie's entire major league career -- promptly surrendered a two-run blast to Zobrist.
"(Escobar) had the big hit right there, giving us the upper hand," Zobrist said. "I felt like just getting up there in that spot, I could help add a run there, and I was fortunate to put the barrel on the ball and get it up enough to get it out."
Deduno (4-4) was charged with five runs on 10 hits and two walks in six-plus innings.
"I just didn't make very good pitches tonight," Deduno said. "Everything stayed up, and the fastball didn't move."
Tampa Bay took 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 increased the margin to 2-0.
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. Damage control was crucial in the inning, Maddon said.
"Any time you can create outs on the basepaths, from a defensive perspective, that can really bolster your outlook (and keep the pitcher in the game)," Maddon said.
Said Gardenhire: "Silly stuff like that will end up shooting you in the end. And it did."
The Rays tied the game 3-3 in the fifth on Evan Longoria's two-out single that scored Jennings, who walked leading off and moved to second on a fielder's choice.
Hernandez exited after six. He allowed three runs on eight hits.
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 begin throwing to live hitters again. 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 Thursday. ... Twelve of Scott's past 20 hits have gone for extra bases. ... 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 Sunday. .... Dozier has seven doubles and 17 RBIs in 22 games since June 15. ... Morneau tied Bob Allison for fourth on the Twins all-time homer list (211). ... Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 52-18 over the past nine games. ... Rays starters have worked at least six innings in 17 of the past 19 games.