ST. PETERSBURG -- A game between a pair of Wild Card contenders was, well, wild on Tuesday night as a heated offensive battle took place in an 11-7 Twins win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
With the win, the Twins improved to a two-game advantage over the Rays in the cluttered race for the American League's second Wild Card spot. The loss moved the Rays back below .500 for the season (62-63). The Twins are now a half game back in the race, while the Rays are 2 1/2 games behind in the second Wild Card following the Rangers' loss to the Blue Jays.
Neither starting pitcher made it to the fourth inning in a contest that saw the Twins take 3-0 and 5-2 leads, only to have the Rays tie the game at 5. But the scoring had hardly run its course.
"One of those games you wish you didn't have starting off a series," Rays starter Nathan Karns said. "But I did. The offense did a great job coming back. It's not easy to put the offense in a 3-0 hole. They did a great job all game fighting back. It's just one of those things where I didn't set the tone right out of the gate and I think it had an impact on the game."
The Twins added two in the fourth on Brian Dozier's two-run homer and tacked on another three in the fifth when Eduardo Escobar doubled home two then scored for a 10-6 lead. Right-hander Casey Fien took over with the Twins leading 10-7 and silenced the Rays bats for two innings as the Twins built an 11-7 lead.
"You're looking to win games and sometimes they don't feel as good as others because of how they unfold," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We're in a phase of taxing our bullpen pretty good and you don't like to do that because it can take its toll. But it was a night where the offense picked us up and we found ways to add on as the game unfolded."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sano doubt about it: The Twins jumped out to an early 3-0 lead with Miguel Sano connecting on a three-run blast in the first inning. It was the 12th homer for the rookie, and went to dead center. He has five homers over his last eight games.
"He's a different animal," Twins veteran right fielder Torii Hunter. "As far as hitting, he's pretty mature. He has a great idea and has great at-bats. He waits for his pitch. He takes pitches I'd never take. He's very polished and that's probably why he's going to be one of the best hitters the Twins have ever seen." More >
Casali's 10th:Curt Casali hit his 10th home run of the season with two outs in the fifth. Unfortunately for the Rays and their catcher, he had to leave the game after injuring himself rounding the bases. Nine of Casali's last 17 hits have been home runs. More >
Dozier's blast puts Twins ahead: After the Rays rallied to tie the game at 5, Dozier gave the Twins the lead with a two-run shot in the fourth. It was the team-leading 26th homer for Dozier. The Twins never trailed the rest of the way, tacking on three runs in the fifth and another in the seventh on a solo shot from Eddie Rosario. Rosario later tripled for his 10th of the year, which set a Twins rookie record, passing Tony Oliva's previous mark of nine triples in 1964.
"It was fun. Going out there and facing these guys that you played with during the year. You're staring at them in the box, it's that fun challenge of facing your buddies, but at the same time, it's nice to come in here and get a win against a team we're battling against." -- Kevin Jepsen, on throwing a scoreless ninth against his former team, as he was traded from the Rays to the Twins on July 31
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Rosario's solo home run off Xavier Cedeno in the seventh ended a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless appearances by the Rays left-hander. The Royals had been the last team to score against him when they scored a run in his July 7 outing at Kansas City.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Right-hander Tyler Duffey is set to make his fourth career start in the second game of three-game series at 6:10 p.m. CT. Duffey struggled in his season debut against the Blue Jays, but has been solid since then, posting a 1.32 ERA over his last two outings.
Rays:Chris Archer (11-9, 2.77) will start Wednesday's game at 7:10 p.m. ET after pitching a shutout against the Astros on Thursday when he allowed just one hit and a walk while striking out 11 using just 98 pitches. He has made nine starts this year in which he allowed no earned runs.