Twins flash leather in win over Rays
Brendan Harris homered, Nick Blackburn pitched well, Denard Span made a highlight-reel defensive play, and reliever Jose Mijares made a difficult catch before falling face-first on the mound.
The Minnesota Twins needed all of that - and more - to get a rare road victory Sunday, with Justin Morneau and Carlos Gomez also prividing timely hitting to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Sunday.
"A much-needed win for our baseball team," manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Twins avoided a weekend sweep and improved to just 6-16 away from the Metrodome. "A few good things happened there."
Blackburn (5-2) pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs and seven hits, and the Twins scored all their runs off Matt Garza (4-4) to beat their former teammate and end a three-game losing streak.
Span, who began the game in left field, climbed the wall in right to rob Tampa Bay's Gabe Gross of an extra-base hit with the Rays threatening to break the game open after taking a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
Mijares helped the Twins through a jam in the eighth by keeping track of Carlos Pena's pop fly that deflected off one of the catwalks supporting the roof at Tropicana Field before the portly six-foot, 231-pound pitcher caught the ball and wound up on his stomach.
"The way things have been going for us on the road, it might have been fitting if that ball hit right on the rubber and bounced back somewhere," Gardenhire mused. "But Mijares, the athletic ability that he has, made a super play."
Pena hit his AL-leading 17th homer for the Rays. Matt Joyce also homered off Blackburn, however Garza - facing his former team for the first time - was unable to hold a 2-1 lead after limiting the Twins to two hits over the first five innings.
Mijares escaped the eighth with the tying run on third base when pinch hitter Gabe Kapler grounded out. Joe Nathan worked a perfect ninth for his ninth save, ensuring Blackburn would improve to 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA over the starter's last five outings.
"Our bullpen was phenomenal," Gardenhire said. "They came in and got some huge outs."
Garza was acquired in the November 2007 trade that also brought shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Rays as part of a six-player transaction that sent Harris and outfielder Delmon Young to Minnesota.
The 25-year-old right-hander was an 11-game winner last season, and beat Boston in Games 3 and 7 to claim MVP honors in the AL Championship Series. He has been Tampa Bay's most consistent pitcher this year, flirting with a no-hitter against the Red Sox on April 30, when Jacoby Ellsbury's infield single leading off the seventh inning spoiled a bid for a perfect game.
Harris and Young had the first two hits off Garza Sunday, with Harris hitting a two-out solo homer in the second and Young leading off the fourth with a single. Span legged out a bunt and later scored on Morneau's RBI single that made it 2-2 in the sixth.
Gomez's bloop single, the third straight hit off Garza, snapped the tie in the seventh. Garza allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings.
"I set out to do my job and wasn't able to squeak through it. ... It's one of those losses you just have to choke down," said Garza, who felt he pitched well.
"He had great stuff. They just got a couple of knocks and they eeked out their three runs," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We hit the ball really well, but without any luck. That's how this game works sometimes."
Notes: Twins C Joe Mauer, who fouled a ball off his right leg just above the ankle and was also hit by a couple foul tips Saturday, was out of the starting lineup. He was available off the bench. ... Tampa Bay leadoff hitter B.J. Upton, hitting .200 with two homers and nine RBIs in 44 games, was rested but entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth. 2B Ben Zobrist replaced Upton at the top of the lineup... Minnesota 3B Joe Crede (bruised left knee) didn't play. ... Maddon has talked with injured closer Troy Percival (right shoulder). Maddon said the right-hander plans to rehab his shoulder, but added that retirement remains a possibility. ... Twins RF Michael Cuddyer left the game in the second inning with right index finger strain. He is day to day.