David Price had no trouble with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau on Friday night.
It was that pesky Danny Valencia, a light-hitting rookie third baseman who had played just once in the previous 10 games, who did in the best pitcher in the American League.
Valencia broke up Price’s no-hitter in the fifth, then delivered the go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning to help the Minnesota Twins to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Huge,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s sitting on the bench and then you play him against a guy like Price after he was sitting over there for a few days. He’s been working really hard on staying on the ball and driving it and he had a couple huge hits for us.”
Scott Baker (7-7) gave up one run on six hits and struck out eight in seven innings to win an outstanding duel with Price, who entered the game leading the AL in wins and ERA.
Price (11-4) allowed two runs on four hits with six strikeouts in eight innings. He also walked four and hit a batter in his second complete game of his career.
The Twins tagged him for two runs in the seventh and Jon Rauch stranded the tying run at second base for his 18th save in 22 chances.
“That lineup out there is probably one of the toughest lineups I’ll face all year,” Price said. “One through nine can swing it and that’s what happens.”
The first five hitters in Minnesota’s lineup went 0 for 14 with three walks and five strikeouts. Hitters 6, 7 and 8 _ Jason Kubel, Delmon Young and Valencia _ went 4 for 8 with a double and both RBIs.
Valencia said he’s been spending his time on the bench listening to veteran Jim Thome about how to stay ready.
Price had a one-hitter going with two outs in the seventh before the Twins put together three straight hits. Kubel singled and scored on a double by Young before Valencia gave the Twins an improbable 2-1 lead with a sharp single to center field.
“While I’m sitting on the bench, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not doing anything,” Valencia said. “I’m constantly in the cage with Jim Thome hitting, trying to stay as fresh as I can.”
The rally came one night after the Rays scored one off Rauch in the ninth to tie the game before winning it 5-4 in 10 innings.
For quite a while, it looked as though the Rays were finally going to be on the good side of a no-hitter. The Rays, who have been no-hit twice this season and three times in the past year, watched their star lefty carve up the Twins for five innings.
All the ingredients were there. Price’s fastball was hitting 98 mph, the Rays were playing stellar defense behind him and the left-handed heavy Twins lineup was flailing away.
Umpire Alfonso Marquez was in the middle of another disputed call Friday, less than 24 hours after he ruled that Twins third baseman Michael Cuddyer did not touch Kelly Shoppach on a tag.
This time, the call went in favor of the Twins when Valencia was ruled safe at second base on a grounder by Nick Punto. Replays appeared to show second baseman Sean Rodriguez’s throw beating Valencia to the bag. The call gave the Twins runners on first and second with nobody out.
Denard Span bunted both runners ahead before Price got out of the jam thanks to two excellent defensive plays. Shortstop Reid Brignac threw out Valencia at home on a slow grounder from Orlando Hudson and center fielder Ben Zobrist made a lunging catch on a line drive from Joe Mauer that appeared to be going for extra bases.
“He definitely deserved a better fate,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Price. “We’ve got to do better than one run. We had plenty of opportunities and did not get it done. That’s been the rub on us. We can’t maintain any kind of offensive consistency.”
Baker deserves some of the credit.
After a shaky first inning in which he gave up doubles to Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria to quickly fall behind 1-0, he settled down, at one point retiring 10 in a row to keep the Twins in the game.
NOTES: Gardenhire said SS J.J. Hardy (wrist) will be activated from the DL in time for the game Saturday. … Maddon decided to move struggling slugger Carlos Pena from cleanup down to seventh in the order. “I want to lighten his load a little bit,” Maddon said. Pena went 0 for 4. … Maddon said there is a “very high” probability CF B.J. Upton, who has missed four straight games with a quadriceps injury, will play Saturday. Upton has not started since an altercation with Longoria in the Rays dugout.