MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Nelson Cruz homered in his return to Minnesota and the Tampa Bay Rays moved to a season-high 26 games over .500 with a 10–4 win over the Twins on Friday night.
Cruz made his first appearance in Minnesota since being traded by the Twins to Tampa Bay on July 22. He hit 76 home runs for Minnesota over the last three seasons and was widely credited as a positive influence on his younger teammates.
Cruz received a loud, extended ovation and tipped his helmet to the crowd before his first at-bat. Michael Pineda then struck him out on three pitches.
In his next at-bat, Cruz sent a line drive into the left-field seats for his 24th home run of the season and fifth for the Rays. The homer prompted another ovation from the crowd. Cruz finished 2 for 4 with a walk and two runs scored.
“You play for so many things in this game, and Nelly Cruz has respect from everyone, so it was really cool to see the fans give him that moment,” Rays center fielder Kiermaier said.
Mike Zunino homered for the third straight game, while Yandy Díaz and Kiermaier also homered for the Rays, who maintained their five-game lead in the AL East. Every Tampa Bay starter had at least one hit and seven players drove in at least one run for the Rays.
“We’re putting up a lot of runs, and when you’re doing that it takes more than just one guy,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We have a lot of guys doing real special things at the plate.”
Shane McClanahan (7-4) allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings for his fourth win in his last five starts. Evan Phillips worked the final three innings, allowing one run for his first save of the season.
Pineda (4-8) took the loss, allowing four earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. He left the game with an injury after throwing his first pitch to Díaz in the third inning. The Twins later announced he had tightness in his left side.
Brent Rooker went 4 for 5 with a home run for the Twins.
THEY’RE ON FIRE
According to STATS, the Rays are the third team in MLB’s modern era to score at least eight runs in seven straight games on the same road trip. The streak dates to the start of a three-game series at Baltimore on August 6 and includes three games at Boston.
“It’s a blast to be a part of. Guys are feeling really good about themselves,” Kiermaier said. “We always just try to one-up each other one through nine in the order and see who the hero’s going to be on any given night. We’re having more fun right now than we’ve had all year and we just want to keep this going.”
The Rays matched the 1929 New York Giants. With two games left in the series, they have a chance to equal the record of nine straight by the 1930 Philadelphia A’s.
The Twins threatened in the sixth inning as Miguel Sanó’s second RBI single of the game pulled them to within 6-3. But with the tying run at the plate, McClanahan struck out Trevor Larnach on three pitches. Then, reliever Matt Wisler came on and got Ryan Jeffers to hit into a double play to end the inning.
“My approach was just try and get a strikeout to minimize (the damage),” McClanahan said. “Get weak contact or something to get out of the inning. Obviously the strikeout was there but I wanted a double-play ball. But Wisler came in and did a great job on the very next batter, so he got the double-play ball for me.”
The Rays then blew it open with a four-run seventh, keyed by Kiermaier’s two-run single.
CIRCLE THE BASES
Kiermaier’s home run was an inside-the-parker off Twins reliever John Gant leading off the sixth inning. Kiermaier hit a long drive that bounced high off the wooden part of the fence and caromed past a leaping right fielder Larnach. Second baseman Jorge Polanco rushed out to retrieve the ball halfway between the infield dirt and the warning track as Kiermaier circled the bases.
Third-base coach Rodney Linares sent Kiermaier, and he didn’t hesitate. Kiermaier slid feet-first to the outside of the base and touched home plate with his left hand just before catcher Ryan Jeffers applied the tag to his shoulder.
The Twins asked the play to be reviewed, but home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz’s call was upheld.
“I thought I was going to be stopped at third but … Rodney kept sending me I got that final adrenaline rush,” said Kiermaier on earning his third homer of the season the hard way. “I’ll take a homer any way I can get it.”
Rays: 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) was available to come off the bench Friday after sitting out Thursday’s series finale in Boston. … Díaz left the game in the sixth inning with an injury to his left hand. A throw from third baseman Joey Wendle was up the line and, as Díaz reached for it, baserunner Rob Refsnyder collided with Díaz’s glove.
Twins: CF Byron Buxton (hand) went through a full pregame workout, and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said the team would be putting together a schedule for the next steps of his rehab this weekend.
The teams square off again on Saturday night. The Twins will send RHP Kenta Maeda (5-4, 4.69) to the mound. In his last outing, he allowed three earned runs over five innings in a victory over Houston on Sunday. The Rays have not named a starter.
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