Damon weighs in: 10th inning homer wins vs. Twins

Matt Joyce broke the hit-less funk in the bottom of the fifth inning with a one-out single to left field, his first of three consecutive hits. After an unsuccessful pick-off play by Twins starter Carl Pavano, Dan Johnson walked, advancing Joyce to second and creating the first legitimate scoring opportunity of the night. It was short–lived, as Pavano was awarded the 1-6 pick-off to get Joyce at second. That one could have gone either way…

Rather concrete, by contrast, was the play at second base on Justin Morneau’s double to lead off the top of the sixth; this is where the night could have gotten really ugly for the Rays. Jim Thome followed Morneau with a base hit, moving him to third. Former Devil Ray Delmon Young’s sac fly to left got Minnesota on the board with a run. Jason Kubel’s ground-rule double put men on first and second with just the one out.

At this point, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon walked to the hill to have a chat with Big Game James, his senior-most pitcher; by the time he got back to the dugout, reliever Adam Russell was warming up in the bullpen. Shields then walked Danny Valencia intentionally, loading the bases just in time for Drew Butera to hit an RBI-single, keeping the bases loaded. Johnson was well placed to snag Alexi Casilla’s line drive and keep the runners in place. Denard Span then popped foul to Rays’ interim third baseman Felipe Lopez and the Bay-area boys emerged from the inning with only two runs scored.

Still, with how Tampa Bay was faring at the plate, it could not have been encouraging for Rays fans.

What may have stirred some life in the beating heart of the Bay area was Fuld’s one-out single in the bottom of the sixth. With Johnny Damon at the plate, the Legendary One picked up his league-leading seventh stolen base of the season. Things were looking up, albeit briefly, when Damon hit a grounder to short but he was thrown out on the play; Fuld advanced to third but B.J. Upton struck out to end the threat.

Tampa Bay got another chance to score in the bottom of the seventh. With two gone, Joyce picked up his second base hit of the night and second multi-hit game of the year. Johnson cracked a single to right to move Joyce to third. John Jaso teased Rays fans by giving the ball a ride to the warning track but didn’t get enough of that one, disappointing the 10,000 in attendance and the thousand watching at home.

B.J. Upton grounded out to open the Rays’ last chance in the bottom of the ninth but Durham call-up Felipe Lopez decided this game wasn’t over yet, cracking a double to the gap in right field. Zobrist followed that with a walk; both runners scored on Joyce’s double to right. The Tampa native had hit first 3-hit night and first 2 RBI of the year. Johnson and Jaso both flied out to right to send this one to extras.

Cesar Ramos struck out Thome to open the 10th inning before Maddon put in closer candidate Kyle Farnsworth. He got Young to ground into a 3-1 at first but allowed a base hit to Kubel. Kubel advanced to second on a passed ball by Jaso, making the run he scored on Valencia’s single unearned.

Reid Brignac led off four innings with a fly out and the bottom of the 10th was no exception. The difference in this one? Fuld’s second single that followed. The next big difference, of course, was Damon’s homer to right, giving the Rays their home win of the season.

Maddon’s thoughts as soon as Damon hit that shot?

“Homer,” Maddon said. “He put it in a good spot for john; I thought ‘homer” off the bat."

Maddon also talked about Damon's leadership, both vocally in the clubhouse and by example on the field.

"I think he recognizes the void, " Maddon said. "I’ve seen him elevate his way.

"I do appreciate the way he is and I do like more of a loose kind of attitude," Maddon added. "I like hard work and I like fun… he pretty much epitomizes [both]."

The Rays had 8 hits on the evening, including 3 from Joyce and 2 from Fuld, one of which served as the tying run on the walk-off winner. Things may indeed be looking up.

Jackie Robinson Day

The Rays will give away free t-shirts with Jackie Robinson’s silhouette and no. 42 to the first 10,000 fans Friday night. Each Rays player will wear the celebrated number as well, in Robinson’s honor; the game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off to benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation’s recipients of the Jackie Robinson Scholarship Award.

Who would have thought a week ago, with the Rays having lost the first six games of the 2011 season, that they’d hear the words “winning” at all, much less in the same sentence as “streak”? Clearly the Rays knew they had it in them and brought it out Thursday night at Tropicana Field for a 4-3 win in the first of four against the Minnesota Twins. Matt Joyce picked up 2RBI in the bottom of the ninth to stave off a sure defeat and Johnny Damon sealed the deal with a two-run shot to right field in the 10th.

All was quiet in the early goings of this outing. Rays righty James Shields, originally scheduled to start last night against the Boston Redsox, took the hill for Tampa Bay at the too-early-for-baseball local time of 6:40 p.m. The Twins managed at least a base hit in each of the first three innings. Or at least the first two; clearly the legendary Sam Fuld chose not to catch that “double” awarded to Michael Cuddyer in the third frame. Interesting post-script: Cuddyer now faces fines and possible suspension for using a Kryptonite-corked bat. Well… he should, at least…

The Rays, in contrast, were hitting – or not, rather – like they had better places to be for the better part of the game . The first four and a half frames sailed by in an hour and the game was on pace to be shorter than the 2:08 home opener/stinker against the Baltimore Orioles.


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