MINNEAPOLIS — 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 entered three games behind the Orioles 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 hosts St. Louis later 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) began the day with a 7½-game advantage on Cleveland, which played later at San Francisco.
“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.
TEN FOR JAX
Jax became the first Twins reliever with double-digit defeats since Ron Davis went 7-11 with 14 blown saves in 1984. Only five relievers have done that in team history. Mike Marshall has the club relief record with 14 losses in 1979.
“Their guy put a real good swing on the ball, hit it on the barrel. It defines the game sometimes," Baldelli said. “That’s what comes along with being a late-inning reliever.”
But fans aren't necessarily buying that Jax's struggles are just part of the game. "There has to be someone better in the farm system," Twins follower Dean LaBounta posted on Facebook. "He is the Twins' Kirk Cousins. Good stuff but can't perform when it really counts."
MAKING HIM WORK
Farmer followed his homer with a 16-pitch at-bat — including 10 foul balls — that ended with a strikeout when he chased a curveball that dived well below the zone to start the fifth. But his effort might well have precipitated the rally.
Edouard Julien and Jorge Polanco followed with walks in a 33-pitch inning that Bradley didn't even finish. Bradley, who slapped his glove on his left thigh in frustration after losing Polanco to the walk, only needed 47 pitches for the first four frames.
Rays: OF Manny Margot (elbow) has been progressing well on his rehab assignment, and there's a chance he would return this weekend, manager Kevin Cash said. Margot's 26-game absence has become more pronounced with the recent injury to CF Jose Siri (hand).
Twins: 3B Jose Miranda will have shoulder surgery on Thursday. The 25-year-old began the season as a regular, was sent to Triple-A in May and aggravated an injury in July that stemmed from spring training.
Rays: RHP Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96 ERA) will pitch 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) will pitch for the White Sox.
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