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Rays

Zobrist's monster day leads Rays to sweep

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:58 PM
MINNEAPOLIS -

Ben Zobrist had the kind of day players dream of when they're dreaming of a good month or fantasizing about a good week.

Zobrist drove in 10 runs Thursday, including a franchise-record eight in the Rays' 15-3 victory during the first game of their day/night doubleheader against the Twins at Target Field.

What's more, the outburst gave him 18 RBIs in his past five games.

"It's kind of unusual," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's hot."

Zobrist's first-game barrage came on a first-inning single that scored one run, a three-run homer in the sixth and two-run doubles in the seventh and ninth innings.

He hit a two-run homer in the second inning of the nightcap, a 6-1 victory that gave the Rays not only the sweep of the three-game series and a 5-1 road trip but only the second doubleheader sweep in team history.

Zobrist's 10 RBIs gave him a team-record 25 for the month, one more than the previous record shared by Carlos Peña (2009), Evan Longoria (2009), Ty Wigginton (2006) and Fred McGriff (1998).

It also gave him the major-league lead in RBIs.

"Any time you have that many RBIs it's just 'cause your teammates are on base for you every time, so that's what it was about (Thursday)," Zobrist said. "We hit well up and down the lineup. Everybody hit, and hopefully we saved a few for the second game."

Indeed, the Rays matched their season high with 19 hits.

Zobrist's eight RBIs in one game topped the record of seven set by Peña in 2009.

And there is more …

Zobrist became the first player with eight RBIs in a game since Toronto's Adam Lind did it against Texas on Aug. 31, 2009.

His 18 RBIs over five games are the most since Sammy Sosa did it from Aug. 10 to 14, 2002.

"That's awesome," Johnny Damon said. "I thought he was going to get a few more (in the first game). I thought the balls he hit to left field had a chance to be home runs. I'm happy for him. He's had a pretty big week, and hopefully he can be another guy on this team who gets player of the week, because he's been pretty amazing."

Damon was referring to himself and James Shields, who won or shared (in Damon's case) the last two American League Player of the Week awards. The week ends Sunday, but it's going to be awfully tough for someone to top Zobrist, who batted .423 on the road trip.

Here is what Zobrist did Thursday: 7-for-10, three doubles, two home runs, 10 RBIs, five runs and 16 total bases.

"Part of it is opportunity, we've been on base. Part of it is the fact Sam (Fuld) and John have really set the table, B.J. (Upton) when he's hit in front of him a couple of times has done a nice job also of getting on base, and Ben's not missing," Maddon said. "He's getting his opportunities. The at-bats have been working. He's done a great job with it."

Jeff Niemann, who started Thursday night's game, might have staked a claim to at least half of that award when he rolled through the Twins offense, holding them hitless through six innings and facing the minimum.

But Denard Span's single to open the seventh broke up Niemann's bid for a no-hitter.

Still, Niemann turned in his best outing of the season — seven innings, two hits, one run — and won for the first time this year and only the second time since going on the disabled list last August.

Like Jeremy Hellickson in the afternoon and Wade Davis on Wednesday , Niemann benefitted from an early lead. Unlike those two, Niemann had a comfortable night, with the game-time temperature at 57 degrees.

The Rays scored at least one run in the first inning of the first five games of the six-game trip and scored first in all six games.

The win extended the Rays' winning streak to five and improved their record to a major league-best 13-3 since April 10.

Maddon said he's impressed with the energy of his team. The Rays managed to shrug off the snow that fell during Wednesday's game and the damp afternoon Thursday. They also stayed focused Thursday night while playing the makeup of Tuesday's rainout, a game they voted to play in July before being told to stick around the Twin Cities eight hours or so to complete the day/night doubleheader.

"The cold weather is never conducive to good hitting. I don't know why," Maddon said. "I'm just telling you the boys have been up, they've been solid, they've been ready. You can see it. I'm watching them. 'Stay out of my way right now. Leave me alone,' that kind of good stuff. That's what I'm getting from them right now. They're ready to play. They're all playing at a very high level mentally."

rmooney@tampagtrib.com

(813) 259-7227

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