ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After a 12-inning game that lasted nearly five hours Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins knew they would need as many innings as possible out of their starting pitchers Thursday afternoon.
But left-hander Erik Bedard could only give the Rays four innings, and their worn-down bullpen couldn’t stop the Twins lineup as Minnesota captured a 9-7 win over Tampa Bay.
With the win, the Twins (11-10) secured their first series victory at Tropicana Field since Sept. 4-6, 2006.
Twins starter Ricky Nolasco struggled in the second inning and wound up allowing six runs on 10 hits. But Minnesota got six innings out of Nolasco (2-2, 6.67 ERA), and the recently untouchable Twins bullpen held on, surviving the Rays’ late rally.
“I thought I did a decent job,” Nolasco said. “Look at the line, it’s a lot worse than it should be.”
“He gave us everything he had,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Pretty good performance, really, against this ball club in this ballpark.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was forced to put the game in the hands of its overworked bullpen from the fifth inning on.
The Rays’ patchwork rotation, now without three of its stars in Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, has lasted five innings or less in eight of their last 10 games, forcing the bullpen to pick up 44 1/3 innings during that stretch.
Bedard added to that total Thursday by quickly running up his pitch count in the first inning, making it somewhat impressive that he even got through the fourth.
“You’ve got to get the best out of the people that we have. I still have a lot of confidence in these guys,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Hopefully it’s not much longer, but as long as it needs to, if they’re the best guys that you have to do it, then you’ve got to keep going and keep supporting them.”
With the Rays trailing by a run and Bedard (0-1, 7.45) done for the day, reliever Heath Bell began the fifth inning by hitting a batter then gave up two hits before serving up a three-run blast to outfielder Aaron Hicks. Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki drove in another run in the sixth off Bell — this time literally, as his line drive bounced off the reliever’s leg and allowed third baseman Trevor Plouffe to score.
“I just didn’t execute pitches. That’s what happens when you don’t execute pitches to a major league team,” said Bell, who allowed five runs in a game for the first time since Sept. 26, 2006. “The Twins are a really good hitting team. I feel behind, didn’t execute pitches down and they hit me.”
Rays first baseman James Loney drove in a run in the sixth, and a pair of sacrifice flies from center fielder Desmond Jennings and left fielder Matt Joyce brought the Rays within three runs. Logan Forsythe knocked a pinch-hit RBI single to center field in the eighth to further narrow the gap.
But with the bases loaded and a two-run deficit in the eighth inning, Jennings popped out on a first-pitch fastball from reliever Jared Burton. Twins closer Glen Perkins then converted his fifth save in six opportunities with a perfect ninth inning.
Minnesota’s bullpen only allowed one run on three hits and two walks in three innings on Thursday. Over their last 13 games, the Twins relief corps has posted a 1.30 ERA in 41 2/3 innings.
“We got out (ahead) early and you knew it was going to be one of those kind of games,” Gardenhire said. “You never feel safe, so we basically threw everything at them we had.”
Bedard slowly labored through a 41-pitch first inning in which he walked four batters. Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and first baseman Joe Mauer walked to lead off the game, then Bedard issued a two-out walk to designated hitter Josmil Pinto.
Suzuki opened up the scoring, driving in Dozier and Mauer with a single to left field. Former Rays outfielder Sam Fuld added another run on a double to the right-field corner to put the Twins ahead 3-0. Bedard walked Hicks before striking out shortstop Pedro Florimon to end a 22-minute top of the first inning.
The Twins added another run in the second as Bedard walked Dozier before surrendering singles to Mauer and Plouffe.
But the Rays struck back in the third inning, as Loney doubled in third baseman Evan Longoria and designated hitter David DeJesus launched a two-run homer to right field off Nolasco, bringing the Rays within a run.
“Loved the fight in our team in general,” Maddon said. “To come back like we did, had a chance to actually tie and go ahead (in the eighth inning), so I love all of that. We just didn’t pitch up to our standards today, and that’s why we lost the game.”
NOTES: The Twins claimed OF Kenny Wilson off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday and optioned him to Double-A New Britain. Wilson hit .210 with a home run and eight RBIs in 15 games this year for Double-A New Hampshire ... Twins OF Sam Fuld had three doubles in two games against his former team this series after not hitting a double all of last year for the Rays. “It just works out that way. Any time we play against one of our former players, they have a field day against us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ... Twins RF Chris Colabello entered Thursday’s game tied with Kirby Puckett (1994) for the most April RBIs in club history, with 26. ... Tampa Bay has doubled in 22 games to start the season and 37 straight games dating back to last year. ... The Rays will head to Chicago to face the White Sox on Friday, sending RHP Chris Archer to the mound to face White Sox RHP Erik Johnson. ... The Twins will return home to host the Tigers on Friday, with RHP Kevin Correia facing Tigers RHP Rick Porcello.