Willi Castro hits 2-run homer in 7th as Twins top Rays 3-2

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Willi Castro hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and the Minnesota Twins rallied to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Edouard Julien also homered for the Twins, who lost Monday’s series opener. They lead the AL Central by 7 1/2 games over Cleveland with 17 to play.

René Pinto homered and Josh Lowe had an RBI single for the Rays, who missed an opportunity to gain ground in the AL East with first-place Baltimore losing to St. Louis. Tampa Bay remains three games behind the Orioles.

Minnesota was held to two hits through six innings before Max Kepler singled off Rays starter Zack Littell (3-6) with one out in the seventh. After Carlos Correa struck out, Castro hit a first-pitch slider to the seats in right-center field.

“The low pitch is a hot spot for me. I think he made a mistake. … I was waiting for that pitch, and that was the result,” said Castro, hitting .393 in his past nine games. Five of his 11 hits in that span are for extra bases, including two home runs.

Louie Varland (4-3) pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, followed by a shutout inning from Caleb Thielbar before Jhoan Duran had a 1-2-3 ninth for his 26th save in 31 chances.

“We did a good job of kind of muscling through the game, staying close, giving ourselves a chance to get a baserunner then popping a homer, and the bullpen did a good job, too,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Littell, a full-time starter since July 30, allowed three earned runs and five hits over seven innings. He permitted one earned run in eight innings last Thursday against Seattle.

Littell, who spent 2018-20 with the Twins, retired 11 straight hitters after Julien’s third-inning homer.

“He was awesome,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Pretty unfortunate the way it ended for him. I felt bad for him. Even the pitch that Castro hit is probably a ball, two balls below the zone. He went down and got it, put a good swing on it. Could not be more impressed with the way Zack is throwing the ball, continues to throw the ball.”

Pinto’s fifth-inning home run to the seats in left gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.

Joe Ryan, who shook off a comebacker off his pitching hand in the second inning, allowed two earned runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings, the second time in four starts since returning from a groin strain he did not make it out of the fifth.

Ryan, who expected the Rays to be more aggressive at the plate, walked Yandy Díaz to start the game but retired nine straight Tampa Bay hitters before Brandon Lowe doubled to start the fourth. He scored two batters later when a liner from Josh Lowe went off the glove of Correa at shortstop for an RBI single.

“It was just frustrating to throw that many pitches in a short amount of time,” Ryan said. “The only pitch I was really frustrated with was the one to Pinto. Got to be a little bit better there, probably with the pitch prior to that. But it was fun offensively to come back and get a nice win there. It feels good.”

Tampa Bay RHP Taj Bradley (5-7, 5.44 ERA) is scheduled to face Minnesota LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 4.78) in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale.