MINNEAPOLIS -- To catch up in the division race, the Minnesota Twins need to start getting some clutch hits. Just like the one they got from Jacque Jones.
Jones hit a bases-loaded triple that sped down the right-field line in the eighth inning, lifting the Twins to a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday night.
While going 13-13 in June and falling 10½ games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, Minnesota's bats went mostly silent. Better situational hitting will be required throughout the summer if the Twins want to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
"Hopefully that gives us a little domino effect and gives our offense some confidence to come back late in games," said closer Joe Nathan, who watched his team's four-run rally in the eighth against Dewon Brazelton before pitching a perfect ninth to notch his 21st save in 23 chances.
Jesse Crain (8-0) extended his AL record to 11 consecutive wins in relief to start a career, despite allowing a two-run home run to Jorge Cantu that ran Johan Santana's home victory drought to eight.
Brazelton (1-8) bailed out starter Casey Fossum in the seventh by getting pinch-hitter Michael Ryan to ground into an inning-ending double play and preserve a 4-3 lead.
But things went sour in the eighth, an inning in which Tampa Bay has been outscored 87-26 this year. Brazelton, a prized prospect who has yet to fulfill his promise since his selection with the third overall draft pick in 2001, went 1-7 with a 6.43 ERA in eight starts earlier this season before being sent back to the minors. This was his third relief appearance since being called up last week, and he has given up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
"There's nothing I can say," Brazelton said. "There isn't an excuse for it. I went out there and tried to do my best, and it just didn't happen."
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella was bewildered after the game, wondering out loud why his young team couldn't play with more composure.
"We're a last-place team," he said. "It's not like we're playing in Yankee Stadium in front of 55,000 people ... you should be able to relax and go out there and have some fun and compete and get a job done."
Brazelton gave up two hits and walked five batters in the eighth, though two of them were intentional -- including one to Joe Mauer that loaded the bases for Torii Hunter with one out.
Hunter walked, tying the game at 4. Then Jones, who left the clubhouse before reporters were allowed in, got his big hit -- clearing the bases and coming in standing up at third while excitedly clapping his hands and kicking his leg out in celebration.
"That's what we talked about - a big hit here and there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Hopefully that'll get us on a roll offensively."
Santana has not won at the Metrodome since April 10. The AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner is 1-3 with a 4.14 ERA at home, compared to 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA on the road.
After giving up eight hits, two runs and a walk while striking out nine and throwing 101 pitches over six innings, Santana -- who leads the majors with 140 strikeouts -- took a 3-2 lead to the clubhouse.
But Crain plunked Nick Green with a one-out pitch in the seventh. Then Cantu hit the first pitch he saw from Crain into the left-field seats -- his 13th home run this season.
"Sometimes, you're going to struggle a little bit," said Santana, who has been leaving the ball up in the zone more than he would like. "You have to realize what's going on and be able to just put everything back together."
Aubrey Huff, who hit 86 homers over the past three years, went deep in the third -- his sixth -- to bring Tampa Bay within one.
Fossum had fallen behind 3-0 in the first when Hunter smacked a two-run double to the gap between left and center. He settled down and retired 13 straight -- and 18 out of 19 -- until Brazelton relieved him in the seventh.
Fossum gave up four hits, three runs (two earned) and two walks in 6 1/3 innings while striking out three. Mixing a few eephus-like pitches in with his effective changeup and breaking ball, Fossum had the Twins struggling to figure out what to swing at for most of his outing.
Crain has allowed only two homers this season, the other one coming last Saturday at Milwaukee. Both of them lost leads for Santana. ... Brazelton tied a Devil Rays record for most walks in an inning, set first by Rick White in 1998. Brazelton has walked 35 batters in 45 2/3 innings this year.
|Players of the Game|
|Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Julio Lugo, SS||5||0||0||0||0||1||3||.277|
|Nick Green, 2B||3||2||0||0||1||2||0||.263|
|Jorge Cantu, 3B||5||1||3||2||0||1||0||.302|
|Aubrey Huff, RF||4||1||2||1||0||1||2||.255|
|Eduardo Perez, DH||3||0||1||1||1||1||2||.276|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||4||0||0||0||0||3||3||.273|
|Carl Crawford, LF||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.275|
|Travis Lee, 1B||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||.251|
|Toby Hall, C||4||0||2||0||0||0||1||.271|
|Damon Hollins, CF||4||0||1||0||0||0||2||.270|
|HR - Jorge Cantu (13, Crain), Aubrey Huff (6, Santana)|
|RBI - Jorge Cantu 2 (48), Aubrey Huff (39), Eduardo Perez (16)|
|2-OUT RBI - Aubrey Huff (16), Eduardo Perez (7)|
|Team LOB - 8|
|DP - Green-Lugo-Lee|
|E - Toby Hall (4, Wild throw)|
|Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Dewon Brazelton (BS,1; L,1-8)||1.1||2||4||4||5||1||0||7.29|
|IBB - Mauer by Dewon Brazelton, by Morneau|
|HBP - Stewart (by Casey Fossum)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Casey Fossum 101-66, Dewon Brazelton 40-16, Lance Carter 2-1|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Casey Fossum 8-7, Dewon Brazelton 2-0|
|Batters Faced - Casey Fossum 25, Dewon Brazelton 10, Lance Carter 1|
|Shannon Stewart, LF||3||1||1||0||0||0||1||.292|
|Juan Castro, SS||3||1||1||0||0||1||0||.245|
|Joe Mauer, C||2||2||0||0||2||0||0||.289|
|Torii Hunter, CF||3||2||1||3||1||0||0||.269|
|Jacque Jones, RF||4||0||1||3||0||0||0||.265|
|Matthew LeCroy, DH||3||0||1||0||0||0||0||.275|
|Brent Abernathy, PR-DH-2B||1||0||0||0||0||1||1||.263|
|Justin Morneau, 1B||3||0||1||0||1||1||0||.269|
|Luis Rivas, 2B||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||.234|
|a- Michael Ryan, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.240|
|b- Lew Ford, PH||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||.270|
|Luis Rodriguez, 3B||2||1||0||0||2||1||3||.303|
|a-grounded into a double play for Rivas in the 7th|
|b-walked for Crain in the 8th|
|2B - Torii Hunter (18, Fossum)|
|3B - Jacque Jones (3, Brazelton)|
|SH - Juan Castro (7)|
|RBI - Torii Hunter 3 (51), Jacque Jones 3 (39)|
|SB - Torii Hunter (19, off Fossum/Hall)|
|CS - Shannon Stewart (2, 2nd base by Fossum/Hall)|
|Team LOB - 5|
|Outfield Assists - Shannon Stewart 1|
|PB - Joe Mauer (3)|
|E - Juan Castro (5, Wild throw)|
|Jesse Crain (BS,2; W,8-0)||2||2||2||2||0||0||1||1.41|
|Joe Nathan (S,21)||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||3.78|
|HBP - Green (by Jesse Crain)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Johan Santana 66-43, Jesse Crain 16-10, Joe Nathan 11-9|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Johan Santana 4-4, Jesse Crain 4-2, Joe Nathan 1-1|
|Batters Faced - Johan Santana 27, Jesse Crain 9, Joe Nathan 3|
|Attendance - 23428|
|Game Time - 2:32|
|Temperature - 70|
|Umpires - Home - Brian Knight, First Base - Ted Barrett, Second Base - Terry Craft, Third Base - Alfonso Marquez|