ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Johnny Damon just keeps getting big hits.
Ben Zobrist led off the ninth with a tying home run and Damon ended the game with a two-out single, leading the Tampa Bay Rays to a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.
Damon has the game-winning RBI in five consecutive games. The designated hitter has two walkoff hits — including a two-run homer in the 10th inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 win over Minnesota — in the last three games.
“I’m starting to get that comfortability with my teammates right now,” Damon said. “They’re counting on me, so being able to have that comfortability is great. I wouldn’t be in that situation if my teammates didn’t help me get there.”
Twins closer Joe Nathan (0-1) blew his second save of the series when Zobrist homered to tie the score at 3.
B.J. Upton walked and stole second. Nathan was replaced by Jose Mijares after walking Casey Kotchman and getting a flyball from John Jaso.
“I think everything, physically, how I feel, is fine,” said Nathan, who didn’t pitch last season after undergoing right elbow ligament replacement surgery. “I’m still going through that process. Trying to get this thing back to where I’d like it. But there’s inconsistencies. There’s outings I go out and it comes out of my hand pretty good. Then there’s outings and it’s not quite as good.”
Mijares struck out pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson for the second out before walking Sam Fuld to load the bases. Damon then won it on his 2,583rd career hit — which tied him with Ernie Banks for 80th place all-time.
Juan Cruz (1-0) worked a scoreless ninth for the Rays, who have won five in a row.
“We just do not quit,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We seem to pick up offensively as the game is in progress. I’ll take the win any way we can get it. We keep grinding out at-bats, getting one more run.”
Matt Capps gave up an RBI single in the eighth to Matt Joyce that cut the Tampa Bay deficit to 3-2. Minnesota has lost four straight and six of seven.
Nathan and Capps both had blown save opportunities Thursday night.
“We got the game into the right situation, in the right hands and it didn’t work out,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We lost again today, late, and those things hurt worse sometimes the other ones.”
Scott Baker, who held the Rays hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, allowed one run and four hits in seven innings. He kept Tampa Bay from scoring after Joyce opened the fourth with a double, and worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in fifth.
Baker struck out six and walked one. The right-hander retired his last nine batters.
“We could have, potentially, won all three games (of the series),” Baker said. “We play as a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. We’re just not getting it done right now. There’s no panic button being pushed.”
Jason Kubel put the Twins up 1-0 on a second-inning homer off Jeff Niemann. Kubel’s shot was just the fourth home run hit by Minnesota this season.
Niemann gave up three runs and eight hits in seven innings. He was coming off a start last Sunday where he allowed five runs over 2 2-3 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Kubel had been hitless in nine previous at-bats against Niemann before his solo shot.
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead when Alexi Casilla scored during the third on Luke Hughes’ double-play grounder.
Fuld pulled the Rays to 2-1 with a sacrifice fly later in the third.
Denard Span made it 3-1 with a fifth-inning RBI triple.
NOTES: Minnesota 1B Justin Morneau was the DH. “Give him a little break,” Gardenhire said. “I think he’s doing really good.” Morneau missed the final 78 games last season due to a concussion. … Twins C Joe Mauer (viral infection) could take part in a light workout Sunday at the ballpark. … Tampa Bay LHP J.P. Howell, who missed all of last season with a left shoulder injury, threw batting practice for the second time and could start a minor league rehab assignment in about a week.
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