MINNEAPOLIS — It was the first game after the All-Star break, a second Opening Day of sorts, but for the Rays it was a pretty big game.
And that made their 6-2 victory against the Twins a pretty big one.
The Rays, hoping to chase down either the first-place Orioles or the Mariners, who hold the second AL wild-card spot, kept the momentum going despite the four days off for the All-Star break.
A three-run double by Evan Longoria and a two-run homer by Ben Zobrist gave Alex Cobb and the bullpen enough of a cushion as the Rays won for the 12th time in their last 16 games.
“It definitely starts that momentum that we need to get going,” Cobb said. “I think that a loss in this situation would be extremely more difficult than a loss in the beginning of the year for us to handle. I think the importance of not having a loss is (bigger) than getting the actual win itself. We got the ball moving in the right direction, so we keep the momentum going throughout this road trip, get back home and see where we’re at.”
The game turned during a pair of bases-loaded at-bats — the one in the third inning when Longoria doubled and the one in the sixth when Brad Boxberger got Twins lead-off hitter Danny Santana to ground out to Longoria to end the threat.
“That’s the tipping point,” Rays manager Joe Maddon of Boxberger’s work.
Boxberger replaced Cobb with two outs after Cobb hit a batter and walked another. Former Ray Sam Fuld was up with his team down 5-2, and with Cobb at 99 pitches, Maddon thought it was time for a fresh arm.
“Sammy will surprise you in those moments,” Maddon said. “I didn’t want to be surprised.”
Boxberger walked Fuld to load the bases before getting Santana for the final out.
“I owe Box a lot,” Cobb said. “This whole starting staff owes Box a lot. He’s gotten us out of some really big jams.”
Boxberger struck out the side in the seventh. Grant Balfour pitched a perfect eighth, and Jake McGee, after allowing an infield single to start the ninth, struck out the final three Twins batters.
“We picked up where we left off,” Maddon said.
Longoria spoke before the game about his desire to pick up his game offensively after a sub-par first half that saw him with a .386 slugging percentage and only 11 home runs. Longoria grounded to shortstop in his first at-bat, but in his second, he delivered the big double to give the Rays a 3-0 lead. The rally was started by rookie catcher Curt Casali, who singled in his first big-league at-bat.
The Twins got two of those runs back in the bottom of the inning when Trevor Plouffe homered to left field with a man on against Cobb.
The Rays added to their lead in the fifth inning with the help of a replay review.
Kevin Kiermaier led off the inning with a chopper in front of the plate that Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki fielded. First-base umpire Mike DiMuro called Kiermaier out. Kiermaier immediately signaled Maddon to use his challenge. Maddon did, and the call was overturned.
“I was just so surprised that he called me out. I felt like I was already halfway past the bag. Thankfully, replay came up clutch right there, and they got the call right.”
Desmond Jennings bunted Kiermaier to second, and Zobrist followed with his seventh home run of the season. It landed in the porch in right field and put the Rays ahead 5-2.
Joyce singled home Kiermaier in the seventh for the final run of the night.