ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Somehow, the Twins found a way to make their suffering worse: Lose very, very slowly.
Just as clocks struck midnight in Florida, Ben Zobrist singled home Yunel Escobar in the bottom of the 13th inning Wednesday, delivering the Rays’ eighth consecutive victory over the Twins, 4-3 at Tropicana Field.
The Twins played their longest game of the season, 4 hours and 48 minutes, but the result was the same — another defeat — as they have endured for most of the past two weeks. The Twins have lost 10 of their past 11 games to fall 12 games behind Detroit, and the pressure was evident in so many critical at-bats.
Oswaldo Arcia, for instance, came to the plate in the 11th and 13th innings with Joe Mauer standing on third base each time. The first time, he tapped to the second baseman on the first pitch, and the second time, he swung wildly at a third strike that was letter-high at best — his fourth strikeout of the game, and the Twins’ record-tying 19th of the game.
“He’s swinging a little crazy there. He’s a young kid trying to hit an eight-run homer,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He was swinging like a madman that last time up — the ball wasn’t even in the zone. But that’s what happens with kids — you’re going to see some of that, and you’ve got to live with it.”
The Twins hadn’t lived with this many strikeouts, though, since July 3, 1968, the last time they whiffed so often. “We were just swinging. We chased a lot of pitches,” Gardenhire said. “[The Rays] figured out pretty quick that we were swinging at two-strike pitches in the dirt.”
Tampa Bay was doing plenty of that, too. Twins starter Kevin Correia struck out six Rays in a messy-but-largely-effective 5⅓ innings, and the bullpen whiffed 10 more. That’s a season-high 16, and the combined 35 strikeouts set a franchise record for the Rays, and tied the Twins’ record, set against the Washington Senators on August 9, 1967.
Six relievers pitched for the Twins, with Caleb Theilbar, Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing each escaping from high-pressure jams. The game would have ended in the 10th inning, but Aaron Hicks leapt high onto the center field wall to grab what would have been a game-winning double by Kelly Johnson, instead ending the inning for Swarzak.
“It was a game-saver,” Gardenhire said. “We were playing deep, trying to say no doubles. He was back there and made a great play.”
But the Tampa Bay bullpen was as effective as the Twins’, continually putting runners on and leaving them stranded. Each team was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position — but the Rays’ one hit was the game’s last.
Ryan Pressly gave up a one-out single to Escobar, then tried a pickoff throw that bounced off Escobar’s ribs as he dove back to first. He moved up to second on the error, then sent the tiny but loud remaining crowd home two batters later, when Zobrist lined a fastball into center.
The Twins’ run production has declined to a trickle inside the Rays’ dome, but they still managed to nick starter Jeremy Hellickson for three runs over six innings without ever mounting anything resembling a rally. For the second consecutive night, they never sent more than five players to the plate in an inning; the only time they have done that in this series was Monday, in an inning in which the Rays intentionally walked a batter.
But Twins kept the game tied through nine innings, thanks to the two runs they scored in the third inning. After fill-in third baseman Eduardo Escobar led off with a single, Pedro Florimon lifted a deep fly ball to right-center that carried two rows into the seats. It was his fourth home run of the season.