ST. PETERSBURG -- Minnesota continued to roll on Wednesday night with a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field to claim its sixth consecutive victory and move into the top spot for the second American League Wild Card.
With the Angels' loss to the Tigers and Rangers falling to the Blue Jays, the Twins (65-61) have leapfrogged past them and now have a half-game lead over Texas and a one-game lead over Los Angeles in the AL Wild Card race.
Meanwhile, the Rays (62-64) fell to three games behind the Twins, whose six-game road winning streak is their longest since they also won six straight away from Minnesota from Aug. 14-26, 2007. Minnesota bounced back after a three-game sweep by the Yankees to open their 10-game road trip.
"We're playing good and what I'm proud of is how we bounced back after those three games against the Yankees," Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. "Especially, the way it happened. So to bounce back and get on this streak is impressive."
Evan Longoria made things interesting when he led off the seventh with a solo home run off Brian Duensing to cut the lead to one run. But Eduardo Escobar came through with a solo home run off Brandon Gomes in the eighth, giving Escobar his second home run of the game while pushing the lead to 5-3.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bunts lead to go-ahead rally: After a leadoff walk from Shane Robinson in the seventh, Byron Buxton showed off his elite speed with a bunt single to put two on with nobody out. Brian Dozier followed with a bunt of his own that he popped up, but it landed just out of reach of Rays starter Chris Archer to load the bases. Mauer then came through with a go-ahead RBI single before Plouffe gave the Twins an insurance run.
"I think the biggest at-bat of the night was Shane's walk to battle and take close pitches against a guy who isn't easy to take tough pitches against," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We tried to get a run there and we bunted with Buxton, and I'm not sure what his time was, but it was impressive. And I don't bunt Doz too often, but thought it was a good time to do it and he got away with a little bit of a mistake there." More >
Archer overpowering: Archer had a dominant performance when he struck out 12 in six-plus innings. Unfortunately for the Rays ace, he left the game with no outs in the seventh and the bases loaded. Two of those runners came around to score, which led to him taking his 10th loss of the season.
"Felt great," Archer said. "Threw the ball well. I think we played well overall. That seventh inning, the ball didn't go our way."
Duffey escapes jams: The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in both the fourth and fifth innings, but Twins starter Tyler Duffey got out of both situations. He got James Loney to ground out to end the fourth, and Logan Forsythe to line out hard to Dozier to end the fifth. Duffey also loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth, and exited after getting Rene Rivera to pop out to first. Duensing came in and got two big outs to keep the Rays off the board.
"We were able to keep the damage to a minimum," Molitor said. "[Duffey] did his job for a young kid out there."
"I think we look at these last two games as opportunities. We were in ballgames. A couple of hits here or there. A couple of pitches made we could be on the better end of the outcomes. We can't keep saying that. I think everybody in this clubhouse knows that. Sometimes you have to make your own situation and it's probably time we start doing that." -- Rays manager Kevin Cash, on the Rays coming close in two game vs. the Twins. More >
"It's kind of surprising. I'm not supposed to have power and hit home runs, you know. I'm surprised today. But I've been working hard in the cage every day, and I can concentrate more because I'm playing a lot." -- Escobar, on his first career multi-homer game.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Gomes surrendered the solo home run to Escobar in the eighth, the blast snapped a streak of 26 consecutive batters retired by the Rays right-hander. Steve Geltz has the club record of 32, which he established earlier this season.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW Kevin Kiermaier was called out when trying to take third on a Rivera's fly out to right field. The Rays challenged the tag play and after two minutes and 16 seconds the call was upheld.
The Twins won a challenge in the seventh to get out of a potential jam, as John Jaso was originally ruled safe by second-base umpire Jerry Meals on a stolen base attempt with two outs. But after a review, Jaso was ruled out to end the inning, as his foot came off the bag on the slide.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Left-hander Tommy Milone is set to start in the series finale on Thursday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Milone is coming off his first career save, as he was needed in extra innings on Sunday against the Orioles. But he also started Friday, lasting 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits.
Rays:Drew Smyly (1-2, 3.42) makes his third start on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET since returning from the disabled list with a torn left labrum. Friday at Oakland he picked up his first win in 358 days, looking sharper than his first start back. As Smyly gains command of his off-speed pitches, the scoreless innings should mount.