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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Snow flakes and Christmas carols did nothing to cool off the surging Tampa Bay Rays.
These boys from the Sunshine State looked right at home at snowy Target Field.
Ben Zobrist tripled and drove in three runs Wednesday night as the Rays pounded Francisco Liriano in an 8-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Temperatures dipped below 40 degrees during the game and flurries turned the ballpark into a late-April snow globe. But the cold weather didn’t bother the bundled up Rays one bit. They won for the 11th time in 14 games to jump over .500 for the first time this season.
“We played like it was 75 and sunny,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Not even Santa Claus and a Christmas jingle could get the Twins going on this night. A fan dressed as jolly old St. Nick danced in the stands as “Jingle Bell Rock” played before the sixth inning, trying to make the best of a tough night for Liriano and the home team.
Liriano (1-4) was chased in the fourth inning, allowing seven runs on six hits with four walks. His ERA swelled to 9.13, a far cry from the impressive comeback season he had last year.
Wade Davis (3-2) allowed two runs on seven hits with three walks and five strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings for the Rays (12-11).
Luke Hughes had three hits for the Twins, whose pitchers walked nine hitters.
“We didn’t pitch,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.. “Our lineup didn’t do anything but the pitcher got us behind (7-1). That had nothing to do with our lineup. We had a couple chances to get a big hit and get a run too, but we didn’t do that too.”
Twins defenders were left out to shiver for 17 minutes in the first inning while the Rays pounced on Liriano. Johnny Damon had an RBI single, Zobrist had a two-run triple and Sean Rodriguez followed with a single to get the home crowd booing their struggling left-hander, who needed 40 pitches to get through the inning.
“That was kind of nasty but it felt a lot warmer after the first inning,” Maddon said.
Liriano gave up a leadoff single to Dan Johnson in the fourth, then walked Reid Brignac and Sam Fuld to load the bases, and he hit the showers without recording an out.
Eric Hacker, who was scheduled to start in the second game of the doubleheader on Thursday, walked the first two batters to force in runs. Zobrist added a sacrifice fly to make it 7-1, and the brave souls who shrugged off the plunging temperatures started heading for the exits.
After an 0-6 start, the AL East champion Rays have surged into second place in the division — two games behind the Yankees — mostly on the strength of their starting pitching. But the struggling offense topped six runs for the second time in three games.
“The bats were hot even though we weren’t yet,” Zobrist said of the Rays’ first inning.
And help is on the way.
All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria will start a rehab assignment with Double-A Montgomery on Thursday and plans to rejoin the Rays in Tampa on Tuesday. Longoria hasn’t played since the second game of the season, when he strained his left oblique.
They will get little sympathy from Gardenhire, who had only one healthy bench player for the game. Delmon Young (ribs) was a late scratch and placed on the disabled list and Jim Thome (oblique) and Jason Repko (quad) also were unavailable.
“I’m worried about everybody, OK?” Gardenhire huffed. “We got two games tomorrow so we got a lot to worry about. There’s a lot to worry about when you got two ballgames and not very many on the bench.”
NOTES: The Twins optioned Hacker to Triple-A Rochester after the game and recalled RHP Anthony Swarzak, who will start Thursday night. … Maddon was on the prowl for a good burger before the game. His eyes lit up when he was alerted to the presence of a Five Guys near the University of Minnesota campus, and said he may seek that out Thursday between games. … Rays LHP J.P. Howell (shoulder) is scheduled to pitch for Class-A Charlotte on Thursday in his third appearance during his rehab assignment. … The Twins called up OF Rene Tosoni for Young, and he will be in the big leagues for the first time.
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