Joyce, Rays slam Twins in grand fashion

Joyce, Rays slam Twins in grand fashion

MINNEAPOLIS -- Matt Joyce knew he'd hit the ball well. Then again, Target Field is about the size of Yellowstone, so he hoped.

"There just aren't a lot of balls that go out there," Joyce said. "I was yelling at it. I was yelling at the ball running around the bases, 'Come on, go!'"

Denard Span experienced different emotions when the ball flew in his direction.

"I wasn't thinking home run," the Twins center fielder said. "As soon as the ball came off the bat I was thinking, 'OK, we got out of the inning.' As it got farther I took a couple hard steps back and I looked up and it was like it just kept going. I went back a couple steps further and then it started to tail on me. As soon as it tailed on me that's when I reversed my body and that's when I ran into the wall."

Span, Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier, and a record-setting sellout crowd of 40,852 let out a collective groan when Joyce's drive cleared the wall for a grand slam. The blast capped a seven-run eighth to lead the Rays to an 8-6 win over the Twins Saturday afternoon.

By winning, Tampa Bay moved to 3-2 on the current road trip and remained two games behind the American League East-leading Yankees, who defeated the Blue Jays, 11-3, Saturday.

Trailing 4-1, the Rays got busy in the eighth when Jason Bartlett doubled to start the inning. Sean Rodriguez followed with an infield hit before Carl Crawford hit a ground-rule double down the left-field line to score Bartlett. Evan Longoria had an RBI single and Willy Aybar an RBI double to tie the score. After a John Jaso groundout, B.J. Upton walked to load the bases, then Ben Zobrist popped up.

At that point, Joe Maddon elected to use Joyce as a pinch-hitter for right-handed-hitting Gabe Kapler.

"His on-base is up there, he works a good at-bat, he gives you a chance every time he goes up there and that's why I felt good about him," the Rays manager said.

Joyce had battled a right-elbow strain for most of the first half of the season before the Rays recalled him from Triple-A Durham on June 25. Prior to the at-bat, he had one hit in 11 pinch-hit chances at the Major League level.

"I was ready from the fifth inning on, because Joe likes to use everybody and you guys have seen him use everybody pretty much every game, so I was ready in the cage," Joyce said. "I was on red alert, DEFCON 5, I just took a look at what Guerrier threw and I went up there looking for something to drive."

Joyce watched the Guerrier's first two pitches pass for balls.

"I kind of wavered on whether or not I should take a pitch at 2-0 and I'm like, 'I'm just going to hit something hard to the middle of the field,'" Joyce said. "I got it pretty good."

Joyce's last home run came on June 2, 2009, against the Royals. The grand slam became the first hit at Target Field, the fifth pinch-hit grand slam in team history, and gave the Rays three for the season.

The Rays' rally ended the game on a high note after a rough beginning. Wade Davis started for the Rays and surrendered three home runs before getting chased after 4 1/3 innings with the Twins leading, 4-1.

Jim Thome hit two of the home runs to first tie Harmon Killebrew for 10th place on the all-time home run list at 573 career home runs, then he moved past him with his 574th in the fourth.

Davis is 5-9 on the season and had lost his previous six starts prior to Saturday's no-decision. Given the fact Jeremy Hellickson is 10-2 with a 2.35 ERA at Durham and pushing to get a chance in The Show, Maddon fielded a question about how much longer he intended to stick with Davis before possibly sending the right-hander to Durham to right his ship.

"That's a fair question, but we have not had that conversation," Maddon said. "We want to get it done here. His last outing was pretty good. That's the thing. He's been pretty good at times. And other times, you saw like tonight, and that's happened like twice in the last three or four starts. So we've got to get beyond that moment, but physically he's fine. His work is fabulous."

After Davis left, Maddon marched out a succession of relievers. Lance Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, and Rafael Soriano covered the final 4 2/3 innings, limiting the Twins to two runs.

"The bullpen did a wonderful job of keeping it at four," Maddon said. "Every time I went to the mound I said, 'Keep it at four, we've got a shot. Keep it at four, we've got a shot.' And the bullpen did a wonderful job, gave us an opportunity to come back."

Choate picked up his first win of the season while Soriano claimed his 20th save.

"Really pleased with the effort," Maddon said. "Win or lose, we were playing the game the right way and that's all I can ask for."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.