MINNEAPOLIS -- Evan Longoria snapped out of his slump with three hits and four RBIs, helping the Tampa Bay Rays avoid a sweep again with a 12-5 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.
Longoria’s single gave the Rays the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, and he added a three-run homer in the ninth. The franchise cornerstone, bothered by injuries for much of this substandard season, was 3 for 28 before the game.
The Rays haven’t been swept in a series of three or more games since the season-opening set against Baltimore.
Michael Cuddyer drove in three runs and tied the game in the seventh with a homer, but the Twins bullpen faltered late after Francisco Liriano struggled early.
After Anthony Swarzak held the Rays scoreless over two innings, Jose Mijares and Alex Burnett escaped a two-on, one-out situation in the seventh with consecutive outs. But Burnett (2-5) stumbled badly in the fateful eighth, when three straight batters reached -- capped by Longoria’s clutch single. B.J. Upton, batting cleanup, pushed in the next run with a sacrifice squeeze bunt. Then Sean Rodriguez smashed a two-run homer to stretch the lead to four.
J.P. Howell (2-1) pitched a scoreless seventh, relieving Juan Cruz after Cuddyer’s 13th homer -- and his 22nd RBI in his last 24 games -- tied the game at 5.
Rays starter Wade Davis allowed nine hits, four runs -- three earned -- and three walks in five innings, striking out only Cuddyer. After a two-run single in the fifth by Jim Thome was soft enough to score Alexi Casilla from first base, the lumbering Thome was thrown out trying to score from second on Rene Tosoni’s single, thwarting the rally and ending the inning.
Liriano didn’t even finish the fifth inning. He allowed six hits, four walks and hit three batters. He fell behind 2-0 and 4-2, all on two-out runs fueled by not-so-unfamiliar wildness by the up-and-down left-hander.
Kelly Shoppach hit a two-run homer in the second, and after Rodriguez was plunked by a pitch to start the fourth, Elliot Johnson and Ben Zobrist followed with RBI singles. Zobrist’s hit was a slow bouncer to third base, where Danny Valencia bobbled it during an off-balance pick-up that would’ve made an out tough to get.
Justin Ruggiano chased Liriano with an RBI single in the fifth to stretch the lead to 5-2, and Liriano failed to finish five innings for the fifth time in 15 starts this season. Even in his no-hitter earlier this year, Liriano had trouble finding the plate, a continuing combination of mystery and frustration for the Twins and their fans over the exceptionally talented Liriano.
Johnny Damon was hit by pitches twice, and he left the game with a bruised left hand.
The Rays have been in third place in their daunting division since late May, though they still have the third-best record in the American League and the sixth-highest winning percentage in the majors. Their opportunity to prove they belong with the other American League East powers has arrived, with 11 straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox before and after the All-Star break -- “a chance to rock and roll a little bit,” as manager Joe Maddon put it.
The Twins, who began the day seven games out of first place in the AL Central, have a four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago this weekend. Catcher Joe Mauer will play first base Thursday for the first time.