ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Johnny Damon circled the bases and disappeared into a pack of teammates waiting at home plate to celebrate Tampa Bay's first home win of the season.
The Rays rallied in dramatic fashion to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 in extra innings Thursday night, scoring twice to tie it in the ninth and overcoming another deficit in the 10th to win on Damon's one-out, two-run homer that barely cleared the wall in right field to give the struggling defending AL East champions their third straight win.
"It's nice to see them celebrating. ... We needed something like that to really get us going," said manager Joe Maddon, whose sputtering offense entered the ninth with just four hits off Twins starter Carl Pavano. "The primary reason we've been struggling has been hitting. So when hitting comes through in the end like that to pick us up, that's nice."
Pavano pitched eight shutout innings, but was denied the victory when Minnesota closer Joe Nathan gave up a two-run double to Matt Joyce in the ninth.
The Twins regained the lead in the 10th on Danny Valencia's RBI single off Kyle Farnsworth (1-0), however once again the bullpen couldn't finish off the Rays.
Sam Fuld singled with one out in the Tampa Bay 10th off Matt Capps (1-1) and Damon — settling into a role as the Rays' primary designated hitter following Manny Ramirez's sudden retirement — followed with his third homer of the season, driving the ball into the first row of the right-field seats.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tried to keep the late collapse in perspective. Afterward, he also revealed the Twins have lost All-Star catcher Joe Mauer to the disabled list because of weakness in his legs.
"You just keep playing. It's part of the game. It does happen. Got two pretty good arms out there that can finish games and tonight it just didn't work out," Gardenhire said.
"We've have to keep battling. We're doing better. We're swinging the bats. We had plenty of chances and we missed a lot of opportunities to score more runs. That's probably where the game was lost more than anything else."
A season-low crowd of 10,042 at Tropicana Field cheered Damon all around the bases. The Rays danced and pranced back to the clubhouse, where the celebration continued.
"Going up to that last at-bat, I'm 0 for 4 in the game and really couldn't do anything off Pavano. But you learn how to forget about it," Damon said. "You learn how to be in the moment, and that's what I did. It wasn't that bad of a pitch by Capps. Fortunately I got enough of it."
Delmon Young and Drew Butera drove in sixth-inning runs for the Twins, seemingly supplying all the offensive support Pavano needed.
Pavano struck out seven and walked two. He held the Rays hitless until Joyce singled with one out in the fifth, and the 35-year-old right-hander stranded runners at third base in the sixth and seventh innings.
The Twins scored twice off Rays starter James Shields. Justin Morneau doubled and Jim Thome singled to begin the inning. Young followed with a sacrifice fly, and Butera made it 2-0 with a bases-loaded single for his first RBI of the season.
Felipe Lopez began Tampa Bay's ninth-inning rally with a one-out, bloop double off Nathan. Ben Zobrist then walked and Joyce drove his third hit of the game into the gap in right to tie it.
Shields and Pavano helped themselves remain in a scoreless duel by picking runners off base in the fifth. Shields caught Alexi Casilla too far off first base before Minnesota's Denard Span doubled to the center-field wall in the top half of the inning. With two runners on, Pavano countered by picking Joyce off second.
Pavano worked out of another tight spot in the sixth when Fuld singled and eventually was stranded at third when B.J. Upton struck out.
Gardenhire turned to the bullpen when Pavano told him he was tired after throwing 104 pitches.
"He said he'd love to be a hero tonight, but he was gassed. ... That's all you can ask from your starting pitcher," the Minnesota manager said.
NOTES: Following the game, Mauer was placed on the 15-day DL because of what Gardenhire described as "bilateral leg weakness," which is causing soreness in the three-time AL batting champion's hips. ... Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria's strained left oblique muscle is improving but there still is no definitive timetable for him to begin rehabbing the injury. The three-time All-Star, out since April 3, is expected to be sidelined a minimum of three weeks.