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Tampa Bay at Minnesota

Tampa Bay
W: J. Nathan (1-0) L: J. Howell (0-2)
HR: TB - B. Zobrist (4)   MIN - J. Morneau (5)

Morneau beats out potential double play to beat Rays in ninth

CBSSports.com wire reports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau had designated hitter duty, leaving him with little to do between at-bats during a three-hour game but ride a stationary bike behind the dugout.

Wise choice. His legs sure needed to be loose at the end.

Morneau hustled to beat out a potential double play and allow the winning run to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, leading the Minnesota Twins past the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Tuesday night.

"I had confidence he was going to get me in, no matter what," said Jose Morales, who raced home when Morneau hit a hard grounder to second baseman Akinori Iwamura. After an easy force, the relay throw was a hair late. First base coach Jerry White jubilantly jumped in the air, and Morneau coolly tossed his helmet toward the mound as his teammates rushed at him.

"I did everything I could do," Iwamura said.

Ben Zobrist, whose pinch-hit homer tied the game in the top of the ninth against Twins closer Joe Nathan (1-0), was summoned from right field to serve as a fifth infielder with one out in the bottom half after reliever J.P. Howell (0-2) gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases.

Morneau was so focused on hitting a ball in the air for a sacrifice fly, he said he didn't even notice the unusual formation.

"Didn't work. He beat it out," manager Ron Gardenhire said, when asked for his take on Rays manager Joe Maddon's decision to stack the infield. "Speed kills."

"My speed usually kills us," Morneau quipped.

Jose Mijares struck out the side in the eighth after a leadoff walk, but Nathan's first blown save in four attempts came quickly in the ninth. The Twins have been outscored this year 113-85, despite a 10-11 record.

Zobrist drove Nathan's first pitch inches above the baggie in right field, evening the game at 3 and Francisco Liriano watched his first victory vanish.

Morneau handed Liriano the lead in the first inning with a two-run homer, snapping a string of six straight solo shots going back 11 days for Minnesota, which began the game with the third-fewest homers in the league.

Liriano, who lost his first four starts, gave up two runs in the sixth but was still in line for the win when Tampa Bay starter James Shields hit Brian Buscher -- who played first for Morneau -- with a two-out, bases-loaded pitch in the bottom of the inning to force in the go-ahead run.

Shields left after that, having allowed seven hits and four walks.

"I am pretty much putting that game on me," he said. "You can't get bases loaded and hit a guy to bring a run in. That's doesn't happen. I don't think that's every going to happen again with me."

Liriano lasted 6 2/3 innings, surrendering seven hits and two walks. Only the second opening day pitcher in Twins history to lose his first four decisions (Frank Viola started 0-5 in 1989), the left-hander got a lot more groundballs by locating his two-seam fastball well and showing some fortitude in a few tight spots. Liriano lowered his ERA from 7.06 to 6.04.

"I know he's been feeling a little rough and worried a little bit, but he can raise his head right there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He did a super job against a very good baseball team."

Maddon was confident the defending AL champions would start winning these close games.

"We just have to get beyond that. It will start balancing out," he said.


  • The Rays stole three more bases and lead the majors with 27. Without Joe Mauer, Minnesota catchers have thrown out only one runner this season. Gardenhire has been patient with Morales, a minor-league convert to the position who picked up bad throwing habits because of a bum ankle last year. Mauer was to play his final game with Class A Fort Myers Tuesday and rejoin the team Friday.
  • Tampa Bay backup C Shawn Riggans, out with tendinitis in his shoulder, is throwing without pain to the bases and might start a minor league rehab assignment next week.
Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Justin Morneau (right) is not known for his speed, but it comes in handy for the Twins in the ninth.  (AP)
Justin Morneau (right) is not known for his speed, but it comes in handy for the Twins in the ninth. (AP)

Players of the Game

J. Morneau
AB 5
R 1
H 1
HR 1
Tampa Bay

E. Longoria
AB 4
R 1
H 1
HR 0

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Tampa Bay Rays
B.J. Upton, CF3100212 .151
Carl Crawford, LF3000203 .274
Evan Longoria, 3B4111021 .365
Carlos Pena, 1B4010011 .256
Willy Aybar, DH3011011 .160
Gabe Kapler, RF3010001 .219
   a- Ben Zobrist, PH-RF1111000 .275
Dioner Navarro, C4000001 .176
Jason Bartlett, SS4020010 .378
Akinori Iwamura, 2B4020002 .296
a-homered for Kapler in the 9th
2B - Evan Longoria (10, Liriano), Willy Aybar (2, Liriano), Gabe Kapler (6, Liriano)
HR - Ben Zobrist (4, Nathan)
SF - Willy Aybar (1)
RBI - Evan Longoria (18), Willy Aybar (1), Ben Zobrist (10)
SB - B.J. Upton 2 (5, 2nd base off Liriano/Morales, 3rd base off Liriano/Morales), Carl Crawford (7, 2nd base off Mijares/Morales)
CS - Carlos Pena (1, 2nd base by Liriano/Morales)
Team LOB - 8
DP - Longoria-Iwamura-Pena, Pena-Bartlett-Shields, Pena-Bartlett
E - Carlos Pena (3, Misplayed grounder)
Tampa Bay Rays
James Shields 6.2733441 3.74
Brian Shouse 0.1000000 2.45
Troy Percival 1000110 3.38
J.P. Howell (L,0-2) 0.2211100 3.00
IBB - Kubel by James Shields
HBP - Buscher (by James Shields)
WP - Brian Shouse (1), Troy Percival (1), J.P. Howell (1)
Pitches-Strikes - James Shields 100-62, Brian Shouse 7-4, Troy Percival 15-9, J.P. Howell 20-11
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - James Shields 7-6, Brian Shouse 2-0, J.P. Howell 2-0
Batters Faced - James Shields 29, Brian Shouse 2, Troy Percival 3, J.P. Howell 5
Minnesota Twins
Denard Span, CF4110102 .303
Alexi Casilla, 2B4110022 .185
   a- Brendan Harris, PH0000100 .314
Justin Morneau, DH5113012 .298
Jason Kubel, LF3010100 .310
    Delmon Young, PR-LF0000000 .255
Joe Crede, 3B4010003 .210
Michael Cuddyer, RF2010201 .216
Brian Buscher, 1B3011013 .222
Jose Morales, C4120004 .375
Nick Punto, SS2000112 .228
a-walked for Casilla in the 9th
2B - Alexi Casilla (1, Shields)
HR - Justin Morneau (5, Shields)
SH - Nick Punto (2)
RBI - Justin Morneau 3 (17), Brian Buscher (2)
2-OUT RBI - Brian Buscher (1)
CS - Delmon Young (1, 3rd base by Percival/Navarro)
Team LOB - 9
DP - Crede-Casilla-Buscher
Minnesota Twins
Francisco Liriano 6.2722230 6.04
Matt Guerrier (H,2) 0.1000000 5.40
Jose Mijares (H,1) 1000130 0.00
Joe Nathan (BS,1; W,1-0) 1211101 2.57
Pitches-Strikes - Francisco Liriano 96-58, Matt Guerrier 5-2, Jose Mijares 16-10, Joe Nathan 23-11
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Francisco Liriano 8-7, Joe Nathan 2-1
Batters Faced - Francisco Liriano 27, Matt Guerrier 1, Jose Mijares 4, Joe Nathan 6
Game Information
Attendance - 18974
Game Time - 2:57
Temperature - 70
Umpires - Home - Bill Hohn, First Base - Bruce Dreckman, Second Base - Paul Emmel, Third Base - Gary Darling