Phil Hughes waited near the entrance of the Twins dugout after the top of the sixth inning ended Friday night to greet left fielder Eduardo Escobar.
Escobar had just thrown out James Loney, who was trying to stretch a single into a double. It was an interesting scene — an inning earlier, Hughes might have wrapped his hands around Escobar’s neck he had been close enough.
A catchable two-out fly ball hit by Kevin Kiermaier in the fifth inning landed in front of Escobar. That enabled Joey Butler to score and put the Twins behind by a run.
But Hughes shook off that mistake and was rewarded. The Twins broke through with two runs in the seventh to overtake Tampa Bay 3-2 in the opener of a three-game series at Target Field.
Hughes (3-4) went seven innings, holding the Rays to two runs on five hits and one walk while striking out three. After going 0-4 in his first five starts, he has won his past three and has looked a bit more like the pitcher who is expected to lead the rotation.
“Everybody has to step up and do their job,” Hughes said. “You can’t really afford to have guys who aren’t pitching well in the rotation. …
“I knew I had to be better and hopefully I’m in a spot where I can continue to improve on this one and maybe learn some things and get my curveball back in the mix like it should be and get going from there.”
Escobar’s misplay — he said he got a late break on the ball — led to an astonished look on Hughes’ face.
“It’s things like that you don’t blame a guy for,” Hughes said after his third quality start of the season. “You just move on and he made a great throw to get Loney out. I was pretty pumped about that.”
The Twins were still down 2-1 at that point, their only run against Rays righthander Jake Odorizzi coming on a third-inning homer from Brian Dozier. But the Twins stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, then got the first two runners on in the sixth and appeared to have something going — only to see Odorizzi (3-3) retire Kurt Suzuki, Escobar and Kennys Vargas in order.
However, they finally got to Odorizzi in the seventh. Aaron Hicks, playing in his fourth game since being summoned from the minors, lined a single to left to lead off the inning. Danny Santana followed with an RBI triple into the right-field corner to tie the score 2-2.
Tampa Bay brought in its infield as Dozier batted, but the second baseman — celebrating his 28th birthday — lined a pitch to center deep enough to score Santana with the lead run.
“The main thing is, we stayed with the game,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Odorizzi was tough, pitched out of a jam right out of the chute. But we found a way.”
Blaine Boyer ran his scoreless-innings streak to 15 with a clean eighth, and Glen Perkins earned his 12th save of the season and 100th of his career despite giving up two hits in the ninth.
Dozier received anonymous cupcakes and duck hunting decoys. And his homer traveled an estimated 392 feet to left-center.
Happy birthday to him.
“Tell you what,” Dozier said. “No matter what it was, as long as we get the W, that’s all that really matters. Phil threw the ball extremely well, kept us in the game.”