ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Morton has fit right in with the surging Tampa Bay Rays.
The veteran right-hander remained unbeaten with his new team Thursday night, benefiting from its biggest offensive outburst of the season in a 14-3 victory over the major league-best Minnesota Twins.
Every player in Tampa Bay’s lineup had at least one hit. Austin Meadows paced the barrage with four RBIs, including the big blow in a six-run third inning against starter Martin Perez (7-2) — a three-run double down the right field line.
The young outfielder who is batting .361 also singled home a run in the fourth, when the Rays scored five more times to make it 11-0.
“That was big, to set the tone like that and get those three runs on the board early,” Meadows said. “I was definitely excited. It was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
In addition to multiple hits in five consecutive games, Meadows has three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs during a season-best six-game winning streak that has the second-place Rays within a half-game of the New York Yankees in the AL East.
Tampa Bay’s winning streak is its longest since the team won eight straight in August last year.
Morton (6-0) limited the Twins, who rank among the big league leaders in numerous offensive categories, to two hits before Luis Arraez doubled and scored on Ehire Adrianza’s two-out single in the fifth.
The 35-year-old Morton, who won 15 games for Houston last season after helping the Astros win the 2017 World Series, has allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of his 12 starts for Tampa Bay.
The Twins top the majors in homers, runs and slugging percentage, but had little success against Morton, who struck out six and didn’t issue a walk while yielding two runs and four hits in a season-high seven innings.
“I felt pretty good. I thought I had all my pitches working,” he said. “The guys swung the bat awesome. They played awesome defense behind me. It was a great game all around.”
Morton improved to 9-0 over his last 19 starts with the Astros and Rays, who signed him to a $30 million, two-year contract as a free agent in December.
It’s the longest unbeaten stretch of his career, as well as the second-longest active streak in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw (11-0 in 20 starts) of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“He was outstanding,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said, adding that pitching with a big lead is not as easy as Morton made it look.
“Charlie has been around long enough to know that you still have to get outs, and the last thing you want to do is tax the bullpen,” Cash explained. “I was really impressed with his performance.”
Brandon Lowe had three RBIs, Ji-Man Choi hit a two-run homer and Christian Arroyo, Willy Adames, Travis d’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia also drove in runs for the Rays.
Perez allowed a season-high six runs and six hits over 2 2/3 innings for the Twins. It was the lefty’s shortest start since last Sept. 18, when he was with Texas and lasted just 1 2/3 innings at Seattle. His only shorter appearance this season was April 10, a two-inning outing on the road against the New York Mets. Perez’s ERA climbed from 2.95 to 3.71.
“One of the bad outings,” Perez said. “It’s going to happen. We’re not perfect.”
Former Rays player and coach Rocco Baldelli returned to Tropicana Field for the first time as manager of the Twins. Baldelli was drafted sixth overall by Tampa Bay in 2000 and played parts of six seasons with the Rays. He was part of Cash’s staff with the Rays for four years before being hired by the Twins last October. The Rays paid tribute to Baldelli between the first and second innings with a video played on the scoreboard.
Twins: DH Nelson Cruz (strained left wrist) is taking batting practice and could be nearing a return. “We should know something soon,” Baldelli said. C Mitch Garver (high left ankle sprain) is on a rehab assignment with Double-A Pensacola and will have his status evaluated after Friday’s game. CF Byron Buxton, who left Tuesday’s game after bruising his right knee running into the wall, was in the starting lineup.
Rays: C Mike Zunino (left quad strain) played seven innings for Class A Charlotte, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. His status will be re-evaluated Friday. … INF Yandy Diaz (bruised left hand) took batting practice, but Cash said the hand remains sore. Zunino and Diaz are already eligible to return from the 10-day injured list.
Twins right-hander Jose Berrios (7-2, 3.20 ERA) starts the second game of the series Friday night. He’s allowed 13 runs (11 earned) and 29 hits over his last three outings. Ryne Stanek will be the opener for the Rays.
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