Rays break loose in 10th, beat Twins 7-3

Published 9:00 am Monday, August 13, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Evan Longoria is back on the field, and the Tampa Bay Rays are back in the AL East race.

Jeff Keppinger hit tiebreaking grounder after the All-Star third baseman was intentionally walked in a four-run, 10th inning, and the Rays beat the Minnesota Twins 7-3 Sunday to improve to 6-0 since Longoria returned from a three-month layoff.

“I believe in all these guys,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I like the energy with which we’re playing.”

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Tampa Bay swept consecutive three-game series against Toronto and the Twins, the first time the Rays swept opponents back-to-back since April 12-19, 2010, at Baltimore and Boston. The Rays sent Minnesota to its fifth straight loss, matched their longest winning streak this season and are five games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees, the closest Tampa Bay has been to first place since the morning of June 26.

Longoria missed 85 games because of a partially torn left hamstring and hasn’t found his power swing yet, hitting .261 (6 for 23) with a double and four RBIs in his return — all as a designated hitter.

Luke Scott (right oblique) is likely coming back from the disabled list this week, and pitcher Jeff Niemann is on an injury rehabilitation assignment for the reviving Rays.

Tampa Bay, which improved to 4-4 in extra innings this season, broke a 3-all tie after Desmond Jennings singled off Alex Burnett (4-4) leading off the 10th and stole second. B.J. Upton walked and Ben Zobrist sacrificed Jennings to third. After the walk to Longoria loaded the bases, Jeff Keppinger bounced to shortstop Brian Dozier, who appeared to have time to throw home for a forceout or to second in an attempt for a double play. Instead, he threw to first as Tampa Bay took the lead.

“Everybody has an opinion on where he should have thrown the ball, but I’m going to back my player here,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He did what he thought was right.”

Dozier wanted to play it safe.

“A smart infielder makes sure he gets one out right there,” he said. “Every shortstop in the league would’ve done the same thing.”

Tampa Bay, which overcame three errors, was pleased at the break.

“It’s good to have one every once in a while,” Jennings said. “I thought he was going to try to turn a double play.”

Tyler Robertson relieved and hit Carlos Pena with a pitch, reloading the bases. Ryan Roberts followed with a two-run single off

Casey Fien, his third hit of the game, and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce singled in a run.

Kyle Farnsworth (1-3) worked around a one-out single in the ninth for first win since Aug. 21 against Seattle, and Fernando Rodney retired his only batter for his league-leading 36th save in 37 attempts.

Tampa Bay starter James Shields tied his season low with just two strikeouts, allowing three runs — two earned — and five hits in seven innings. He twice stranded runners who reached third with one out.

“Today was a grind,” he said. “Our defense wasn’t there, but we’ve had good defense since the (All-Star) break and are playing well.”

Minnesota starter Scott Diamond allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings, matching his season highs with two walks and two home runs allowed.

Jennings hit his third career leadoff homer for Tampa Bay and Keppinger homered in the second for a 2-0 lead. Keppinger’s error allowed Josh Willingham to reach in the bottom half, and Justin Morneau’s two-run homer tied the score.

Denard Span doubled and scored in the third, then left in the seventh with right shoulder pain, an inning after his diving attempt on a ball by Keppinger that wound up as a double. X-rays showed no damage and the Twins said he is day to day.

Consecutive doubles by Roberts and Sean Rodriguez tied the score in the fifth.