MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Joyce said he didn't know if his pivotal, pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning of the Rays' 8-6 win Saturday was actually going to make it over the wall at Target Field's cavernous centerfield.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had his doubts, thinking it was a "pop fly to center."
So Joyce tried to coax it as best he could.
"I was yelling at the ball running around the bases," Joyce said. " 'Come on, go! Go!' "
Joyce's 408-foot blast cleared the wall by inches, capping the Rays' thrilling seven-run rally and lifting them to their second come-from-behind win in three days. And it gave Joyce his first signature moment in a roller-coaster season, with his stint in the big leagues delayed until last week because of an elbow strain.
"It was an absolute amazing feeling," Joyce said. "To come in and pinch-hit late in the game and help the team win, especially with the way the team has been playing."
The Rays (47-33) have now won three of five on this tough road trip through Boston and Minnesota heading into the Twins series finale today and remain two games behind the Yankees in the American League East.
Things didn't look too good early for the Rays, as Twins DH Jim Thome had nearly as many curtain calls (two) as they had hits (three) through four innings. Rookie starter Wade Davis had another shaky outing, giving up four runs on three homers (two by Thome) in just 41/3 innings.
While the Rays offense scuffled against Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano, their bullpen kept them in the game as four relievers combined to throw 32/3 scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the ninth.
"Every time I went to the mound, I said, 'Keep it at four (runs) boys, we got a shot. Keep it at four, we got a shot,' " manager Joe Maddon said. "The bullpen did an outstanding job and gave us an opportunity to come back."
And their defense once again sparkled, with Gabe Kapler making a diving catch in right-center in the third and Sean Rodriguez likely saving two runs with nice plays at second base in the second and fifth.
The Rays offense, held to just one run and four hits by Liriano through seven, exploded once he left to start the eighth, picking up six hits against three relievers and batting around.
The rally started with a Jason Bartlett double that bounced off rightfielder Michael Cuddyer's glove and a Rodriguez infield single. Carl Crawford had an RBI double, Evan Longoria an RBI single and Willy Aybar a run-scoring double to tie it. But after the Rays loaded the bases, Ben Zobrist's popout had them in danger of ending the inning without the lead.
That's when Joyce, pinch-hitting for Kapler, came through with one of the biggest hits of his career. Joyce, who entered Saturday 1-for-11 as a pinch-hitter, said he stayed ready by swinging in the cage since the fifth inning. "I was on red alert, DEFCON 5," he joked.
And when Joyce was told he'd be hitting, he took a look at what Twins reliever Matt Guerrier threw, took two balls — and considered taking the third offering — before ripping a fastball down the middle.
On a day when Thome made history with his two homers, moving past Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew into 10th on the all-time list (574), Joyce etched his name in the record books with the first-year park's first grand slam.
"That's one way to go in there, huh," Joyce said, smiling. "That's awesome."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.