ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon has become a big fan of the sacrifice fly.
Desmond Jennings had one of the Rays' team record four sacrifice flys and drove in three runs as Tampa Bay beat the Minnesota Twins 6-2 on Sunday.
"From a spectator's perspective, it's one of the more boring plays in all of baseball," Maddon said. "But from the dugout perspective, I can to tell you how exciting it is to see that."
Tampa Bay's four sac flys were the most by an AL team since Seattle had five in a game — which tied the major league record — against Kansas City on April 15, 2008.
"The name of the game is to score as many runs as possible," Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton said. "In spring training, probably the No. 1 thing on the hitters' list was trying to do a better job of getting the man in from third base with less than two outs. We worked on it all spring, and I think in those situations we really try to bear down and get the job done."
Jennings had a sacrifice fly during a two-run third and made it 5-0 in the fifth with a two-run homer off Francisco Liriano (0-3).
Liriano went five innings, allowing five runs, three hits and four walks. The left-hander has given up 22 runs, 25 hits and 13 walks over 16 1-3 innings this season.
"We're going to step back and see what we need to do to try and help him out, get his confidence back, and try to figure some things out to help him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're going to review the whole situation and see what's best for our ballclub and him."
Liriano threw just 47 of 86 pitches for strikes.
"I can't locate my pitches at all," Liriano said. "Not even my fastball, my changeup, nothing. Nothing is working so far."
Josh Willingham went 0 for 2, which ended his season-opening 15-game hitting streak that had tied Kirby Puckett's Twins' record set in 1994. Willingham walked once and was hit by a pitch.
The Rays took a 2-0 lead — on sacrifice flys by Jennings and Ben Zobrist — in the third without getting a hit. Liriano loaded the bases with no outs with two walks and a hit batter.
Evan Longoria got the Rays' first hit leading off the fourth, a high fly to left that struck an overhanging catwalk and then landed in shallow center. He scored to make it 3-0 on Upton's sacrifice fly.
"I think I hit it well enough to hit a home run, but the good thing is it didn't get caught," Longoria said. "If it's caught, then I get a home run and a double and everything taken away. But that's (Tropicana Field) for you."
Upton added another sacrifice fly in the eighth, which gave the Rays a team record fourth sac fly.
Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann didn't allow a hit until Clete Thomas' two-out single in the fifth. He left one inning later with the bases loaded and one out. After Jake McGee struck out Justin Morneau, pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit cut the Twins' deficit to 5-2 on a two-run single off Wade Davis.
Niemann (1-2) gave up two runs and three hits in 5 1-3 innings. His teammate at Rice University, Phil Humber, threw the first perfect game in the majors in almost two years as the Chicago White Sox beat Seattle 4-0 on Saturday.
"He put some pressure on me to go out there and do something myself," Niemann said. "It was weird for Humber to go out there the day before and do something like that. We spent three years in college together. It was almost like a 'Here it goes again' kind of thing. It was fun."
The Twins went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and were 4 for 27 overall in losing two of three to Tampa Bay.
NOTES: Former Twins star Tony Oliva threw the ceremonial first pitch. He was inducted this weekend into the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame, which is located at Tropicana Field. ... The Rays are off on Monday.