ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Josh Willingham kept his hot stretch going with a hit at the perfect time.
Willingham extended his season-opening hitting streak to 14 games with a go-ahead three-run double and the Minnesota Twins beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Friday night.
“Another big night for our left fielder, what’s his name? … Willingham,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said with a smile. “I seem to be calling that name out an awful lot. He’s fun to watch. He’s been on the baseball, that’s for sure.”
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Willingham’s hit in the seventh off Joel Peralta puts him one away from tying Kirby Puckett’s team mark of hitting safely in 15 straight games to start the 1994 season.
“I was just battling,” Willingham said. “That was a 1-2 count. I was looking for anything. I was trying to see the ball out of his hand. Just reacted to the fastball.”
The Twins also got two RBIs from Joe Mauer, who went 2 for 3 with two walks. Mauer is 31 for 70 overall at Tropicana Field.
“For whatever reason I see the ball pretty good here,” Mauer said. “So hopefully I can continue that the next couple days.”
Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce homered for the Rays. Longoria had a homer and four RBIs in Tampa Bay’s 9-4 win Thursday night at Toronto.
“They just beat us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “They got the hit that they needed, we did not and they won. So we just have to move on.”
After Tampa Bay tied it with a run on Carlos Pena’s bases-loaded double-play grounder in the sixth, Longoria gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead with a two-run shot off Liam Hendriks.
“That’s the way that guy is,” Gardenhire said of Longoria. “You make a mistake and he kills it, and he did.”
Mauer had put the Twins ahead 2-0 on RBI singles in the first and fifth.
“We’re never out of it until the 27th out is recorded,” Mauer said. “It’s a big difference between this year and last year. Guys keep fighting, keep swinging the bats and that’s what you got to do.”
Joyce cut the Rays’ deficit to 2-1 during the fifth on his fourth homer of the season.
Hendriks gave up four runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings. Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore allowed three runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings.
Brandon Gomes (0-1) replaced Moore and was charged for two runs, one hit and a walk without recording an out. Twins reliever Matt Maloney (1-0) retired all three batters he faced.
Matt Capps pitched the ninth for his fourth save.
Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and utility man Stephen Vogt was optioned to Triple-A Durham before the game.
Upton hurt his lower back in an outfield collision with teammate Desmond Jennings during a spring training game against Miami on March 14. He grounded out with a runner on third and two outs in the second, and finished 0 for 3.
NOTES: Minnesota 1B-DH Justin Morneau, who fouled a ball off his right foot Thursday night, was out of the lineup, but available off the bench. “Everything is fine,” Gardenhire said. “It’s pretty sore. I didn’t see any reason to put him out there on this (artificial) surface. It’s pretty hard. I expect him to be back out there (Saturday). … Tampa Bay RHP James Shields (2-0) and Twins RHP Carl Pavano (1-1) are Saturday night’s scheduled starters. … After the game, Tampa Bay optioned INF Reid Brignac to Durham to make room for 1B-OF Brandon Allen, who was claimed off waivers Thursday from Oakland.