ST. PETERSBURG -- Staving off a trio of game-tying Rays rallies, the visiting Twins kept tacking on runs to avoid the brooms with a 10-6 win over Tampa Bay in the series finale at Tropicana Field on Wednesday afternoon.
A three-run rally in the seventh, which started with a throwing error by Tampa Bay reliever Steve Cishek, was the final blow in a back-and-forth battle.
"It's a rivalry," Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar said. "We're going to fight. They are going to fight. It was going to be a great game."
The win moves the Twins a half-game ahead of the Angels for the second American League Wild Card spot, as the Halos fell to the A's on Wednesday. Tampa Bay is three games back in what has become an eight-team race.
"It's too early for 'must-wins,' but we talk about momentum and trying to minimize these down stretches because we really can't afford anything to go on too long," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "With so many clubs this close together, there's still going to be some bouncing around over the next three-plus weeks."
The Twins staked rookie starter Aaron Slegers to an early lead after Brian Dozier led off the game with a solo shot off Rays starter Blake Snell. The lead would be short-lived as Evan Longoria hit a solo homer of his own -- his 18th home run of the year and first since Aug. 1 -- in the bottom of the first. Ehire Adrianza and Lucas Duda later traded three-run shots.
"It's frustrating, especially with the offense doing what they did, six runs," Snell said. "They kept tying it up, giving me a chance to turn it on, and I couldn't do that. That was really frustrating for me to not hit my stride and at least get through six [innings] to help my team out and give us a good chance to win."
After Chris Gimenez and Adrianza led off the fifth inning with consecutive singles, ending Snell's day, Rays reliever Sergio Romo hit Jorge Polanco on the foot with a pitch. With the bases loaded, two outs and down to his final strike, Escobar slapped a two-run single to right field to give Minnesota another short-lived lead. Kevin Kiermaier hit a two-run shot to right-center field to tie the game at 6.
The Rays missed a chance to pick up their first sweep since April, and they slipped back to a game under .500 in the process.
[The margin of error] is shrinking, but there are  ballgames left," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "If it comes down to one game, we're kicking ourselves. We could probably pull many games out of a hat. I like the way the team played -- set the tone the first night, won a tight ballgame yesterday, and we really caught and fought in this one."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sacrifice proves key: Cishek, who had not allowed a run in 18 straight appearances since becoming a Ray, walked the first batter he faced, Dozier, to start the seventh inning. Polanco laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt which was quickly fielded by Cishek. His throw to first, however, sailed wide right of Duda and allowed Dozier to score and Polanco to advance to third. Polanco scored easily on a flared single off the bat of Escobar two hitters later.
"The ball bunted, and [Cishek] kind of checked up and allowed the guy to get down the line who had some speed," Cash said. "I'm not sure if we even get the guy, but yeah, I don't know if he rushed it or got underneath it a little bit." More >
Free passes start trouble: Slegers ran into trouble in the bottom of the third after issuing two-out walks to Corey Dickerson and Longoria. Duda took the first pitch he saw from Slegers -- a sinker that stayed up in the zone -- to straightaway center field for a three-run home run to knot the game at 4.
"The walks, that's something I always pride myself on not doing," said Slegers, who finished the game allowing five earned runs on five hits while striking out three and walking two. "When I give up runs like that, I can always look back to the walks as the rally-starter for the opposing team."
"We leave here with a positive mind. The offense struggled the first few games. We didn't hit well. Knowing that we won and that the offense woke up again, I think that gives us good momentum to go into Kansas City." -- Escobar, on avoiding the sweep
"Sweeping is hard in the big leagues. We just had so many opportunities to win this ballgame, and everybody was fighting. We know we gained a game [on the Twins in the standings]. Could have gained three, which would have been an enormous swing."-- Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr.
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Longoria ended a homerless streak of 123 at-bats, the longest of his career.
Polanco had hit a leadoff double in the third inning and stole third base. However, the Rays challenged the steal, and after a review of 58 seconds, umpires determined Polanco did not maintain contact with the bag for the duration of Longoria's tag, and the call was overturned.
Polanco squared to bunt with runners on first and second base in the fifth inning. Romo's slider skipped in the dirt and made contact with Polanco's foot. The catcher stopped the ball, and umpires originally ruled the play a ball. The Twins challenged that it hit Polanco, and a 32-second review overturned the call to a hit-by-pitch.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Minnesota will head to Kansas City to begin a crucial four-game set against the AL Central-rival and fellow Wild Card hopeful Royals starting Thursday at 7:15 CT. Righty Kyle Gibson (9-10, 5.33 ERA) will try and replicate his last outing against the Royals, when he tossed six scoreless innings while striking out five and walking none.
Rays: The Rays travel to Boston for a three-game series with AL East leaders Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Chris Archer (9-8, 3.76 ERA) will end up taking the mound, given a clean diagnosis on his right lateral forearm tightness. Archer beat Boston on April 14 at Fenway, his first win over the Red Sox since 2012.