Polanco’s sac fly in ninth lifts Twins over Rays 5-4

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jorge Polanco hit a game-ending sacrifice fly in the ninth inning to lift the Minnesota Twins over the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Sunday.

Max Kepler led off the ninth against Matt Wisler (3-5) with a line drive slicing away from left fielder Austin Meadows toward the foul line. Kepler reached second, and when the ball skipped under Meadows’ glove for an error, he took an extra base. Two pitches later, Polanco hit a drive that was caught on the right-field warning track, scoring Kepler without a throw.

“We did it with (Kepler) putting a good swing on the ball, going hard out of the box, giving himself a chance,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The ball was misplayed and him ending up at third base, that’s where we need him on that play. It was a good baseball play by him.”

Kepler finished with two doubles, two walks and three runs scored, while Polanco walked three times and scored twice in addition to driving in the game-winning run. Alexander Colomé (3-4) pitched a scoreless ninth for the Twins to earn the win.

Mike Zunino and Wander Franco homered for the Rays.

Rays starter Luis Patiño walked five batters in three innings, and his control problems got him into trouble immediately. After Kepler and Polanco walked leading off the first, Josh Donaldson drove in a run with a base hit.

A second run came across when Trevor Larnach beat out a potential double-play ball, giving the Twins a 2–0 lead after an inning.

Minnesota stretched its lead to 4-0 in the fourth thanks to another wild spell by Rays pitchers. Ryan Sherriff got the first two outs before Kepler and Polanco each walked again. Donaldson scored them both with a double into the left-field corner.

Rookie left-hander Charlie Barnes, making just his third major league start, held the Rays in check until Zunino homered in the fifth. The solo shot was his 25th of the season, tying a career high, and gave him homers in four straight games.

Franco cut the lead to 4-3 with a two-run homer to right off Edgar García in the sixth, and the Rays tied it on Randy Arozarena’s RBI single in the seventh. However, Tampa Bay was just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, including 0 for 4 with the go-ahead run on third base in the seventh and eighth innings.

“We’re going to be on each end of that stat a little bit,” Zunino said. “To be able to battle back from an early deficit, run into the meat of their bullpen, I thought we had some good at-bats, had some good opportunities. But like I said, we kind of took the long way.”

PUNCHING ABOVE THEIR WEIGHT

With the victory, the Twins clinched their third straight series, all against first-place teams. They took three of four at Houston last weekend and began their current nine-game homestand by winning two of three against both the White Sox and the Rays.

The Twins had just fallen to a season-low 18 games below .500 (45-63) before this turnaround began. It’s helped breathe new life into a club that has spent most of the season reeling after a 2-9 stretch in April knocked them into the AL Central cellar.

“Obviously nobody over here is satisfied with anything that we’ve seen this year as a whole,” Baldelli said. “But I will tell you this … any team in baseball that would be looking at our August would be saying that’s about as tough as it gets in Major League Baseball. We have not let that get in our way in any way. We’ve gone out there and kind of brought it to the teams we’re playing. And frankly I think we should be happy about that right now.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: 1B Yandy Díaz (sprained left thumb) missed his second straight game, though manager Kevin Cash said he did swing a bat Sunday and was available off the bench if necessary.

Twins: RHP Jorge Alcala (sore triceps) played some light catch Sunday for the first time since going on the IL Aug. 9. Baldelli said Alcala was feeling “a lot better” and indicated that the injury appeared to be more of a “scare” than a long-term issue.

UP NEXT

Rays: Tampa Bay returns home to face RHP Matt Harvey (6-11, 6.10) and the Orioles in the opener of a four-game series on Monday. The Rays have not announced a starting pitcher.

Twins: Minnesota continues its homestand with a three-game series against Cleveland that begins on Monday. The Twins will send RHP Griffin Jax (3-1, 5.45) to the mound against RHP Cal Quantrill (3-2, 3.13).

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