Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 8/12/12
There's plenty the Tampa Bay Rays should feel good about from the three-game sweep they completed Sunday in Minnesota. They can savor the offensive outpouring in Friday night's 13-hit, 12-6 romp from team that only a week ago went 21 straight innings without scoring a run. They can point to David Price's 15th victory of the season in Saturday evening's 4-2 victory -- tying him for the major league lead --- or Fernando Rodney's 35th save in 36 chances, punctuated by his club-record 20th straight save. But perhaps the Rays should even better about how they prevailed Sunday in a 10-inning, 7-3 triumph at Target Field. They won ugly -- committing three errors to snap their impressive errorless streak of 10 games, hitting into three double-plays and going a paltry 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position. In other words, it was precisely the kind of game that has gotten away so many times this season. And the fact that they pulled it out could bode well for a team that has now won six straight with a pair of back-to-back sweeps -- and opens a three-game series Monday night in Seattle against the struggling Mariners. Of course, it helped that the biggest gaffe of the game was committed not by Tampa Bay but by Minnesota shortstop Brian Dozier, a doozy indeed when Dozier lost his composure in the top of the 10th. With the bases loaded and one out, the 25-year-old fielded a hopper and appeared have enough time to force speedy Desmond Jennings out at home -- or even go for an inning-ending double-play. For one thing, Jennings seemed to think he was a goner at the plate and wasn't running full speed. But Dozier, assuming Jennings would be sprinting all-out, never looked home and never looked to second, even though there might have been a play on B.J. Upton to start the double-play. Instead, he went straight to first and easily pegged out Jeff Keppinger, allowing Jennings to score the ultimate game-winner. The upshot: In spite of its own glitches, and with a little help from the Twins, Tampa Bay has something it can truly feel good about now: a genuine hot streak (nine wins in the last 11 games and 11 of 14). Suddenly, they're sitting all alone in the the No. 1 Wild Card position, 10 games over .500 for the first time since June 11 at 62-52. And if you're keeping track, the Rays haven't lost in six games since star player Evan Longoria, who missed 85 games with a hamstring tear, has been back in the lineup. What's more, the Rays now trail New York (67-47) by only five games in the AL East, and have finally moved ahead of pesky Baltimore by a full game into second place. Barely a few weeks back, the Yankees appeared to be running away with the division, but they look vulnerable due to an array of key injuries -- the latest a second trip to the DL by ace CC Sabathia -- and that has manager Joe Maddon and his team talking about something that only recently seemed implausible at best: taking the East title. "Our goal is to win the division," Maddon told reporters after the game. "We want to be in the playoffs, no question. But our goal is to win the division." The Rays certainly had their moments Sunday. They tagged tough lefthander Scott Diamond for two homers -- one by hot-handed leadoff man Desmond Jennings in the first and a solo shot by Jeff Keppinger in the second -- and collected eight hits off him in seven innings. And when starter James Shields lost the lead -- yielding a two-run blast in the second to Justin Mourneau and giving up an RBI single to Joe Mauer in the third -- they battled back. Scrappy second baseman Ryan Robert got it going in the fifth with the second of his three hits, a ground rule double to right, and scored the game-tying run when Sean Rodriguez promptly followed with a double to the right-center gap. Still, the Twins looked like they would find a way to emerge victorious. They had runners in scoring position in five straight innings -- the fourth through the eighth -- and couldn't push the go-ahead run across. They had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the seventh, when normally sure-handed Ben Zobrist muffed a fly ball in right and allowed Dozier to reach second to start the inning, then move to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jamey Carroll. But Shields hung in and retired Darin Mastroianni on a shallow fly out to Jennings in left, preventing Dozier from trying to advance (the throw Jennings made to catcher Jose Lobaton would have nailed him easily). And he got out of the jam by inducing a groundout to third by Ben Revere. In the eighth, Minnesota threatened again, this time against reliever Joel Peralta, with a leadoff walk to Mauer, who stole second and prompted Maddon to order a one-out intentional pass to Mourneau. But Peralta kept his cool, retiring Ryan Doumit on a fly to left and Alex Casilla on a pop to short. In the 10th, Jennings got the Rays going with a leadoff single off reliever Alex Burnett -- making him 9-for-19 (.473) in his last five games. B.J. Upton, coming off his double-homer effort from Saturday, walked. And both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Zobrist. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire ordered an intentional walk of Longoria to load the bases and play for a double-play or a force at home. The grounder to Dozier, playing at double-play depth, might have done it. But he had tunnel vision to first and the Rays took the lead, breaking it wide open soon after on consecutive doubles by Roberts and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. "I talked with him about it," Gardenhire said in his post-game press briefing. "He had good thoughts. He knew the runner and the speed at third base. Your two options are you try to turn a double-play in my opinion or go home. But he had good thoughts. He kind of got screened by the runner. And he felt after he caught the ball that (going to first) was his play." Dozier stood by his decision as well. But in the end, all that really mattered to the Rays was that they'd kept their winning ways going strong -- thanks to a revived offense and more of the standout pitching that has carried them, including an easy one-out save by Rodney for his 36th in 37 tries. Shields, who held Minnesota to five hits in seven innings, was especially pleased that the Rays won the kind of game that so often has slipped away. "I think earlier in the year, it was more or less that we kept making mistakes throughout the game," said Shields, "We just stayed positive today. Even with the errors, we can in the dugout and everybody was just hyped up and getting ready to go. So I think we had a really good attitude." They'll try to carry it over to Seattle, where Alex Cobb (6-8, 4.32) faces Blake Beavan (7-6, 5.12) Monday night at 10:10 ET, followed by Matt Moore (9-7, 3.73) dueling Kevin Millwood (4-10, 4.38) Tuesday night at 10:10 and Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.52) going up against ace Felix Hernandez (10-5, 2.74) Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. Offensively, the Rays could also get a boost soon with the return from the DL of lefty slugger Luke Scott, expected to join the team sometime this week. Just last weekend, the Rays suffered back to back shutouts at the hands of the Orioles. Now everything seems to be falling into place. "When you win some games, you believe you're going to pull it out somehow," Maddon said. "There's an intangible that circulates through your body when you believe that you can. We believe that we can. So in moments like that, when you're in the thick of things and making a solid run right now, you almost will good things to happen sometimes." And find ways to win, pretty or not.
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