Twins’ Kenta Maeda aims to hold down hot Rays

MLB Baseball

Right-hander Kenta Maeda will try to cool down the sizzling bats of the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night when he takes the mound for the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

Tampa Bay won the series opener 10-4 on Friday as every starter had at least one hit and seven different players drove in a run. It was a team-record seventh straight game that the American League East-leading Rays have scored eight or more runs.

In the past 90 years, only the Oakland Athletics in 2000 and the Cleveland Indians in 2001 have scored at least eight runs in eight consecutive games.

Tampa Bay hit four home runs Friday to improve to 33-9 in games they have hit more than one home run. Catcher Mike Zunino homered for the third straight game, Nelson Cruz moved past Jason Giambi into 43rd place on the all-time home run list with his 441st, Kevin Kiermaier hit an inside-the-park homer and Yandy Diaz also homered for the Rays.

“It’s just a blast to be part of,” said Kiermaier, who in the sixth inning lined a drive off the wall in right that ricocheted sharply back toward the infield. Kiermaier barely beat second baseman Jorge Polanco’s relay throw to the plate for the inside-the-park homer and a 6-2 Rays lead.

“We complement each other in a very unique way,” Kiermaier said. “We’re having more fun right now than we’ve had all season.”

“I didn’t know everybody in the starting lineup got a hit, but I guess it makes sense,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We put up a lot of runs. Got off to a really, really good start against (Twins starter Michael) Pineda and then just carried it over into their bullpen.”

Tampa Bay improved to 6-1 on its nine-game trip, during which it is averaging 9.3 runs per game.

“Just a lot of good at-bats,” Cash said. “Set a tone early (that) was nice to see.”

The popular Cruz, playing for the first time at Target Field since the Twins traded him on July 22 for two highly touted pitching prospects, received a standing ovation when he batted in the first inning and also got a loud cheer from Minnesota fans when he lined his 24th homer of the season into the left-field bleachers in the third.

“It’s one of the finest moments in my career,” Cruz said. “I’ve been cheered before, in Texas, Baltimore and Seattle when I go there the first time, but nothing like this. … It was special. The first at-bat, I got some tears there. Definitely emotional.”

Now it will be up to Maeda (5-4, 4.69 ERA) — who won his last start on Sunday at Houston, 7-5 — to try to even the series in his first career start against the Rays. Right-hander Michael Wacha (2-3, 5.49) will start for Tampa Bay. He has surrendered two runs on three hits lifetime against the Twins, with one walk and five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. Wacha is 1-0 against them.

“Overall, we’ve got to play better baseball to stick with a team like this,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Cruz said he’s been impressed by what he’s seen by his new teammates offensively in the three weeks since the trade.

“It’s pretty neat and pretty remarkable to see this,” Cruz said. “Every night someone new is stepping up. We are all playing well.”

–Field Level Media

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