ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are gradually lifting themselves out of a season-opening hole.
Hit by hit. Win by win.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” pitcher Wade Davis said Friday night after the defending AL East champions beat the Minnesota Twins 5-2 for their fourth straight victory. “But we’re starting to jell a little bit and everybody’s starting to play good baseball.”
Davis pitched seven strong innings and Johnny Damon and Kelly Shoppach drove in two runs apiece, leading the Rays to their fifth victory in seven games following an 0-6 start in which they struggled to score runs.
Davis (1-2) limited the struggling Twins to three singles and Danny Valencia’s fifth-inning RBI double before being replaced by Joel Peralta, the first of four relievers Rays manager Joe Maddon needed to get through the final two ininngs.
Minnesota, the defending AL Central champion, has dropped three in a row and five of its last six.
“Right now we’re not getting it done. It’s obvious,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We don’t like to lose around here. We’re not accustomed to it, and we’re not going to get accustomed to it. We won’t let that happen.”
A night after beating the Twins with a 10th inning homer, the 37-year-old Damon delivered a two-run single off Nick Blackburn (1-2) to erase a 1-0 deficit in the sixth. Shoppach finished off the Minnesota starter with a two-run, seventh-inning homer for his first RBIs of the season.
Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce each had three hits for Tampa Bay, which has scored 37 runs in its five victories compared to 12 in its eight losses. Damon has hit safely in seven consecutive games after going 1-for-15 while the Rays were losing five straight home games to begin the season.
“Overall, another good team effort,” Maddon said. “It’s always spearheaded by good starting pitching and playing good defense. And we got the clutch hits when we needed them.”
With one run in and a runner on first, Kyle Farnsworth came out of the bullpen to get the final out and earn his third save in as many opportunities for Tampa Bay. The run, charged to reliever Cesar Ramos, scored on shortstop Reid Brignac’s throwing error.
Blackburn faded quickly after a promising first five innings for the Twins, playing their first game since three-time AL batting champion Joe Mauer was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of leg weakness. Gardenhire said earlier Friday that the catcher also has a viral infection, which the club believes has contributed to Mauer’s body soreness.
For the second straight night, the Twins faltered after taking a lead. Carl Pavano worked eight scoreless innings in Thursday’s series opener only to be denied the victory when closer Joe Nathan blew his first save in four opportunities this season by giving up a two-run double to Joyce in the ninth.
The Rays then won it in the 10th, overcoming a 3-2 deficit on Damon’s two-run homer off Matt Capps.
The defending AL East champions didn’t need to rally late this time.
Damon’s two-run single put the Rays ahead and Upton’s RBI double later in the sixth hiked the lead to 3-1 against Blackburn, who narrowly escaped being hit by a line drive hit by Joyce during the inning. The ball appeared to deflect off the pitcher’s glove and rolled to shortstop for an infield single.
Shoppach put it out of reach with a first-pitch, two-run homer off Blackburn, who allowed five runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings.
“As I told the boys in there, this game doesn’t give you anything. You have to take it,” Gardenhire said. “We need to start taking a little more than we’re giving.”
Notes: Gardenhire hopes Mauer, who was placed on the DL because of leg weakness stemming from offseason arthroscopic surgery, will be able to return to the lineup in a couple of weeks. The 2009 AL MVP is expected to start a rehab program next week. … Minnesota DH Jim Thome entered the game 2-for-2 with two homers lifetime against Davis. The slugger hit a fly ball to the warning track in center field in his first at-bat and finished 0 for 2 with a walk against the Rays’ starter. He scored the Twins’ first run when he drew the walk before Valencia’s RBI double. … Shoppach has three homers in 15 career at bats against Blackburn.
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