MINNEAPOLIS — The painfully bruised and swollen left hand that is likely to sideline Johnny Damon for at least a few days was obviously a concern. And the opportunities missed and mistakes, obvious and otherwise, made were troubling enough that manager Joe Maddon admitted after the 12-5 win over Minnesota, "We were fortunate to get by today."
But there was no doubt the Rays felt better about themselves as they headed to New York, amid overwhelming Jeter-mania, to open a four-game series that kicks off the most crucial stretch of their season.
"It's much more appealing going in under these circumstances," Maddon said.
Despite the injury to Damon, a couple blown leads, another unimpressive Wade Davis outing and some more ragged play, the Rays still got what they needed most Wednesday afternoon, which was a win, avoiding hauling a three-game losing streak as part of their baggage.
That it came via a virtual breakout by their anemic offense — 12 runs! 14 hits! Three home runs! — and that Evan Longoria delivered the biggest hit, singling in the run that broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth, made it even better.
"A pretty good feeling," Longoria said.
The four-game series against the American League East-leading Yankees that starts tonight and takes the Rays — 48-39 and four games back — to the All-Star break is challenging enough, especially with the hoopla and surrounding Derek Jeter's pursuit of the final three hits to reach 3,000.
But it's just the first of a three-chapter test for the Rays, who come out of the break hosting the Red Sox for three games then the Yankees for another four.
"Our next three series, it's make or break," said Damon, who left the game after being hit by a pitch in the third inning.
"It seems like those guys (the Yankees and Red Sox) are winning every single game right now. And we actually have to stay as close as we can if we want a chance to make the playoffs and actually win the whole thing."
As if this 11-game gauntlet weren't enough, the Rays have another week of Yankees and Red Sox dates in mid August, making them the opponents for 17 of their next 37 games.
"It's all right in front of us," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "We talked about it when we came into spring training, positioning ourselves in September to make a run at the postseason, As it turns out with the scheduling this year, that could be in July and August. We need to play well. There's no doubt about it."
Wednesday started out that way as Shoppach hit a two-run homer in the second. And after the Twins tied it, the Rays rallied for two more in the fourth on singles by Elliot Johnson and Ben Zobrist then extended the lead to 5-2.
They could have had more and turned out to need it as Davis gave up two more before leaving after five, and Juan Cruz allowed a tying homer to Michael Cuddyer in the seventh. They salvaged Wednesday by breaking out for seven runs over the final two innings against the Twins bullpen.
"Frustrating game," Maddon said. "We had opportunities to add on or score more runs, and we didn't. It's hard to bemoan 12 points, but nevertheless, there's moments we've got to get better at."
Especially against the upcoming competition.
"I love that we're playing these guys right now," Maddon said. "We have not played each other that often for the first half of the season, so now we get a chance to rock and roll a little bit."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.