Yunel's yardwork keeps Rays streaking
Shortstop hits go-ahead homer, Tampa Bay wins fifth straight
ST. PETERSBURG -- Everybody figured Joe Maddon's rose-colored glasses had fogged up early in the season when the Rays manager talked about his club's slumping offense having the potential to become a "swarming" attack.
Credit Maddon for understanding his team, which has evolved into a quick-strike offense, that, well, seems to swarm like he said it would.
"When theory and reality come together, it's always fun," Maddon said.
Yunel Escobar unleashed Monday night's swarm when he ripped his seventh homer of the season into the left-field stands to lead off the seventh.
By the time the Twins finally got the required three outs to end the inning, the Rays held a three-run lead and had effectively put the game away in a 7-4 win at Tropicana Field.
Escobar's blast came on an 0-1 pitch from Samuel Deduno. Desmond Jennings followed with a triple, and one out later Ben Zobrist homered off Caleb Thielbar to complete the three-run outburst that broke a 3-3 tie.
Prior to Zobrist's blast, Thielbar had held opposing batters hitless in 31 straight at-bats, and the home run was the first run the rookie left-hander has allowed in his Major League career, snapping a streak of 17 scoreless appearances.
Thielbar said he intended for the pitch to find the inside part of the plate, but it finished as a belt-high fastball over the middle.
"Where guys like that get most of their home runs at," Thielbar said.
The Rays have now won five games in a row and nine of their last 10 to move to 50-40 on the season, and into second place in the American League East.
"The thing I like is we're 10 games over, and segmentally, we have to get up 15, that would be next," Maddon said. "And then you work it from there. But you have to go to 10, and then you have to go to 15, etc., etc. The major takeaway from tonight is the fact that we're 10 games over .500, for me."
Maddon addressed the perception that the Rays are in the midst of a winning stretch only because they have been beating up on the likes of the Astros, the White Sox and now the Twins, all teams well below .500.
"I just think we're playing well," Maddon said. "I know there's a lot being made about the schedule right now, but I don't believe in that stuff. … I really like the way we played [Monday night].
"We've been playing well. That's why the record is 9-1 over the last 10 games. Pitching well, playing good defense, not expanding our strike zones. That's the primary reason we've been winning, because we've been seeing some pretty good pitching."
Zobrist echoed his manager.
"All the way across the board, offensively, pitching, defense, everything is clicking right now," Zobrist said. "I feel like it really doesn't matter who we're playing. We feel pretty confident about the way we're playing, and that's where we're at right now. It's a good spot to be in."
While the swarm that has given the Rays one of their better offenses in recent history, the starting pitching has been the straw stirring the drink during this hot spell.
Roberto Hernandez filled the role on Monday night, giving the Rays a blue-collar quality start that saw the veteran right-hander allow three runs in six innings before leaving with the game tied.
Rays starters have worked at least six innings in 17 of their last 19 games, which is a drastic improvement after failing to work at least six innings in the seven games prior to the current run.
Alex Torres took over for Hernandez and pitched a scoreless seventh to win his third game of the season. Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless eighth before Jamey Wright surrendered a run in the ninth. Fernando Rodney finished out the game by collecting the final two outs to earn his 20th save of the season.
Luke Scott took advantage of his second game hitting in the No. 2 spot by taking Deduno's seventh pitch out of the park for a solo home run in the first. Jose Molina had an RBI single in the second.
The Twins cut into the lead in the third on doubles from Aaron Hicks, who was a homer shy of the cycle, and Brian Dozier. A fan was removed from the game for interfering with Hicks' double. Justin Morneau homered in the fourth to tie the game before Chris Parmelee's sacrifice fly gave them a 3-2 lead.
Evan Longoria evened the score again in the fifth with a single up the middle to score Jennings, who led off the inning with a walk.
"The team is playing very loose right now," Escobar said. "We have a lot of good hitters on this team, and everyone is doing what they have to do to win. That's why we're having the success that we're having."