Matt Joyce hit a two-run homer and a two-run double, Jose Molina drove in three runs and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Minnesota Twins 12-6 on Friday night to keep pace in the crowded American League wild card race with their ninth win in 12 games.
Jeremy Hellickson (7-7) won for the third time in his last four starts despite lasting only five innings. He had an 8-1 lead after a six-run second by the Rays, who batted around twice and won their fourth straight game. This is the longest streak since June 7-10 for Tampa Bay, which won six in a row two separate times earlier in the season.
The Twins had won nine of their previous 13 games, but rookie Cole De Vries (2-3) was roughed up from the very first pitch. Desmond Jennings hit the first of six doubles by the Rays and scored on Joyce's no-doubt drive to right field. De Vries got only four outs and gave up seven hits, eight runs and 14 total bases, his ERA soaring from 3.81 to 4.77 in his 11th start of 2012.
The Rays started a 10-game road trip in style, finishing one short of their season-high score, 13 at Miami on June 9. They started the day in what's essentially a five-team chase for the two wild card spots, one game behind Oakland and a half-game back of Baltimore and Detroit.
Evan Longoria drove in a run with a second-inning single, giving him three RBIs in four games since returning from his 85-game absence caused by a partially torn left hamstring. Manager Joe Maddon spoke before the game about the boost Longoria has given to the team's spirit just by being in the lineup, and the Rays improved to 19-8 this season when he is.
Ben Zobrist, playing shortstop for the second straight game, was the only starter without a hit. But he made two slick pick-ups of ground balls up the middle, including one that ended the first inning with Josh Willingham on first after he drove in Joe Mauer with a single for his 85th RBI, third-most in the league behind Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.
This was Mauer's 12th three-hit game of the season, on the night when the first 20,000 fans through the gates got his replica sideburns as a souvenir.
Hellickson finished at least six innings in all five of his July starts, but he has only totaled nine innings in two August turns. Still, with the large early lead he breezed to another victory, despite allowing seven hits and three runs with two walks and three strikeouts.
Jeff Manship relieved De Vries and retired 11 straight batters until stumbling during a four-run sixth on Molina's two-run single and B.J. Upton's two-run double.
NOTES: Maddon said Longoria will stay as the DH on this trip and not move back to 3B. "If it were to happen it would be a great surprise," Maddon said. ... Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe will start a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Saturday, with his bruised right thumb almost ready for action again. The Twins want him to play two games there before they bring him back. "He says he feels good, but he's got to face the ball coming in 90 miles an hour," manager Ron Gardenhire said. ... All-Star LH David Price (14-4, 2.49 ERA) will pitch for the Rays on Saturday night, trying to become the first in the franchise's 15-year history to reach 15 or more wins in two separate seasons. RH Nick Blackburn (4-7, 7.42 ERA) will take the mound for the Twins for the 18th time this year.
Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP