MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With the state-map silhouette of Minnesota still mowed into the outfield grass, the All-Star game festivities having come and gone, the Twins returned to Target Field.
For Kyle Gibson and his teammates, this wasn’t the way they wanted to play their first game after the break.
Ben Zobrist homered and Evan Longoria had three RBIs to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a 6-2 victory on Friday night over the Twins, who started a 10-game homestand with hope, however faint, of contending after winning five of seven on the road last week.
Rays starter Alex Cobb (5-6) allowed two runs in 5 2-3 innings, and Matt Joyce added an RBI single as the Rays continued to try to climb back into race. Trevor Plouffe homered for the Twins, a two-run shot in the third highlighted by a fan leaning over the railing in left-center and making a snow-cone catch before the ball landed in a flower bed, but that was all the scoring they could muster.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the third on Longoria’s bases-loaded double that soared just beyond the reach of right fielder Oswaldo Arcia.
“That’s a really tough play, a rocket hit to the wall and you’re on a dead sprint. He gave it an effort and tried for it. Just didn’t catch it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Gibson (8-8) could’ve escaped that inning with minimal damage, but a comebacker off the bat of Desmond Jennings deflected off his glove when second baseman Brian Dozier was in prime position to start a double play behind him. The ball went for an infield single, and then Zobrist walked. Two batters later stepped up Longoria.
“Anything around that mound I’m going to try to get and get the ball to second and turn that double play,” Gibson said. “That’s the frustrating part, because I take pride in that, trying to be able to field that position. And I’ve got to be able to make that play.”
Zobrist made it 5-2 in the fifth with a two-run homer that bounced off the top of the limestone overhang in right field.
“Good hitter. Can’t throw a pitch right down the middle in that situation,” Gibson said.
Both teams needed to start strong in the second half if in order to stay in the playoff chase and dissuade the front office from trading away veterans before the deadline.
The Rays had a losing record at the break for the first time since 2007, but they won 11 of 15 heading into the break. Since 2010, Tampa Bay holds the best record in baseball after the All-Star break.
The Twins have been up and down all summer, but their 5-2 road trip leading into the break offered optimism. Starting pitching is where this all starts, of course. Gibson had the best home ERA in the American League through the first three months of the season, but his last two turns at Target Field have been rough: 8 1-3 innings, 15 hits, 12 runs.
Gibson is a sinker-ball specialist who got 15 ground-ball outs on Friday. Still, his strikeout total over his last five starts is only eight.
“I think there are situations where I can get strikeouts and that’s good for me but if I can be efficient and use my sinker and get through seven innings and 85 pitches and get deep into the game that’s what I’d rather do,” Gibson said.
NOTES: The Twins activated rookie Danny Santana and sent reserve Chris Herrmann to Triple-A Rochester before the game. … Twins GM Terry Ryan said 1B Joe Mauer has been “making steady progress” from an oblique strain, but has not resumed batting activities. … David Price (9-7, 3.23 ERA), who’s been in Minneapolis all week as the Rays lone All-Star, faces Phil Hughes (10-5, 3.92) of the Twins on Saturday night.