Rays top Twins 5-4 on Arozarena’s 9th-inning homer to head into weekend series vs. Orioles

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Randy Arozarena’s bat has been relatively quiet for Tampa Bay since the All-Star break, and September has been a particularly slow month at the plate for the All-Star left fielder and 2021 American League Rookie of the Year.

He rose to the occasion in Minnesota on Wednesday. That ball he hit kept soaring, too.

Arozarena’s tiebreaking home run with two outs in the ninth inning helped the Rays recover from a blown four-run lead to beat the Twins 5-4 heading into a weekend showdown with AL East leader Baltimore.

“He rises up in big games and big moments. He’s done it since he’s been a Tampa Bay Ray,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Hopefully that provides him a little bit of a jolt and it continues now the rest of the way.”

The Rays (90-57), who trail the Orioles by two games in the division race, reached 90 wins for the ninth time in their last 15 full seasons. Tampa Bay starts a four-game series on Thursday at Baltimore, which lost to St. Louis on Wednesday. The Orioles are 6-3 against the Rays this year.

“I’m always ready. It brings up the focus level a little bit more, especially to help out my teammates as much as I can,” Arozarena said through an interpreter. “We know we’ve got some big games coming up.”

Arozarena sent a 448-foot drive — the longest of his 70 career homers — into the third deck above left field on a 3-2 slider from Griffin Jax. Arozarena has given the Rays a lead with 10 of his 21 homers.

“It raises the confidence a little bit. I thought I lost it there for a little while,” said Arozarena, who was 9 for 44 with two extra-base hits in September before the homer.

Kevin Kelly (5-2) pitched two perfect innings in relief for the victory. Jax (6-10) was one pitch away from a perfect inning himself. He leads the staff in losses.

The AL Central-leading Twins (76-70) maintained their 7½-game advantage on Cleveland, which lost at San Francisco to cut Minnesota’s magic number to nine for clinching the division.

“I don’t want them to think the finish line is in sight. What I want us to do is win tomorrow, and that’s the goal,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “When you start looking toward the end of the season? We’ve all been guilty of it at different points, but the good teams and the good players find a way to not do it.”

Yandy Díaz, who was forced out of Tuesday’s game with a bruised testicle, hit a two-run double in the second inning that Curtis Mead started with a triple. Mead added an RBI double in the third for a 4-0 lead against Dallas Keuchel.

Rays starter Taj Bradley gave up consecutive home runs to Matt Wallner and Kyle Farmer in the bottom half. Then Max Kepler hit a two-run triple with two outs in the fifth to tie the game.

Colin Poche walked pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow with one out in the ninth and pinch-runner Andrew Stevenson stole second base, but Robert Stephenson recorded his first save by striking out pinch hitter Christian Vázquez to end the game.


Rays: RHP Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96 ERA) pitches on Thursday to open the series in Baltimore. RHP Kyle Bradish (11-6, 3.03 ERA) takes the mound for the Orioles.

Twins: RHP Kenta Maeda (4-7, 4.65 ERA) starts on Thursday to begin a four-game series at Chicago. RHP José Ureña (0-5, 8.46 ERA) pitches for the White Sox.