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Tampa Bay Rays hold on for 5-3 victory over Minnesota Twins

ST. PETERSBURG — The programming was coincidental, but the messaging couldn't have been better timed.

As the bruised and beaten-down Rays prepared to play the Twins on Friday, an MLB Network replay of their most thrilling 2008 moment, the Game 7 ALCS win over the Red Sox, showed on the clubhouse TVs.

Then the Rays went out and showed they could still play like that in a 5-3 victory that snapped a season-high five-game losing streak and, they hope, their recent run of bad luck.

"It fired us up," Carl Crawford said. "I think it had everybody in a good mood."

The Rays (24-27) played the kind of game they played so often last season. James Shields, finally getting some support, gave them the strong start they needed, working into the eighth. Crawford hit a home run. Evan Longoria hit a bigger one. Willy Aybar knocked in a huge insurance run. J.P. Howell got three tough outs and Dan Wheeler got two in the ninth before newcomer Randy Choate got the last one.

"We needed it real bad," Crawford said. "We'd lost five straight, and everything was feeling dead around here. We needed something to pick us up. This was a good make-us-feel-good type of game."

"We needed something to turn it around," Longoria said. "Hopefully this gets us going back in the right direction."

The Rays went ahead in the third when Crawford hit a 412-foot homer with two outs to center and held it until the sixth when Michael Cuddyer countered with a majestic 433-foot blast to left.

But the Rays — who have had trouble holding leads — responded, and in a big way.

Upton reached — on a hard shot to third that was first scored a hit, then an error, then a hit — and Crawford singled. Longoria took it from there and sent it a long way, crushing a 2-and-0 Scott Baker pitch off the Batter's Eye restaurant in centerfield to make it 4-1 and push his major-league-leading RBI total to 54.

"If he makes a better pitch there, it might be a different story," Longoria said. "But he just left it over the middle of the plate."

It still wasn't easy, of course, in front of a Trop crowd of 19,358.

The Rays had to survive a couple of Twins rallies, and their nightly injury issue, as Carlos Peña's right forearm was "smoked" — and still sore an hour after the game — by Cuddyer's shin on play at first base.

The Twins scored twice in the eighth to get within 4-3. Sizzling catcher Joe Mauer — who went 3-for-5 to raise his May average to .417, which manager Joe Maddon termed "ridiculous" — started it with a triple that ended Shields' night, and they scored the second run when Longoria bounced a throw and Peña's arm collided with Cuddyer's leg, the ball going one way and Peña's glove the other.

"It hurt like crazy, but it's good," Peña said.

Shields hadn't been winning (just once in his previous seven starts), but it wasn't all his fault as he'd received the fifth-lowest run support in the league. That said, the four runs seemed like a load, and — with his 80-plus year-old grandparents watching for the first time — he made it work, improving to 4-4, 3.53.

Howell got them out of the eighth inning, then Aybar knocked in an important insurance run. After Wheeler allowed a walk between two outs in the ninth, Choate — filling in for injured lefty specialist Brian Shouse — struck out Mauer for his first big-league save in a career that has spanned 10 seasons.

"We needed a win," Shields said. "We definitely needed a win."

Tampa Bay Rays hold on for 5-3 victory over Minnesota Twins 05/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 12:38am]
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