MINNEAPOLIS – It was the kind of game the Tampa Bay Rays needed for some time.
OK, maybe not the rain and the 2 hours, 4 minute rain delay.
But the early lead, the tack on runs, the easy night.
Throw in a loss by Texas earlier in the day and Saturday turned out pretty well for the Rays, who climbed into a tie with the Rangers for the Wild Card lead with a 7-0 victory against the Minnesota Twins at soggy Target Field.
“Definitely, it makes it a little easier, a more relaxed win instead of a one-run game where you're still kind of a little tight,” said center fielder Desmond Jennings, whose two doubles after the rain delay produced the final three runs of the long night.
The win was the third straight for the Rays – their longest winning streak since they won three straight from Aug. 18-20.
It's quite a change for a team that was scrambling for its postseason life after Wednesday's 10-inning loss to the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
“I would just say the overall demeanor in the clubhouse, the energy that's in the air, it's a lot better to be around,” said Matt Moore, whose start was cut short to three innings because of the rain delay. “It's a lot easier to smile, a lot easier to cutup and be yourself where when you lose seven, eight in a row or whatever it was. For a while it was pretty bad. You almost kind to start to pay attention to more things than you want to pay attention, too.”
Actually, the Rays slide included a five-game losing streak inside a run of one win in eight games.
But is this winning streak enough to declare the fog has lifted around a team, even if Saturday's win was just their seventh in their last 20 games?
“I think we're on our way,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It's getting better. You still want to see more, I think. But it's getting better. What I'm starting to see is a greater looseness about the group. They're starting to relax a bit, which is good, and I think once we do that we're going to start playing our typical game. But let's keep on pushing. It's looking better. I believe in things. I believe it's going to continue to get better, but I still don't think it's there yet.”
The Rays were a relaxed bunch Saturday.
Jennings wore his No. 4 crimson Alabama jersey as he and a good number of his teammates watched the Alabama-Texas A&M showdown before batting practice.
Then rain cancelled the Rays batting practice, which allowed Jennings and company to continue watching the football game as they prepared for the Twins. Another hot topic was the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Saul Alvarez title fight and where would everyone go after the game to watch the bout.
It was as loose as the Rays seemed pregame in a while, and it showed once the game began.
Moore allowed a hit, walked three and struck out five in his three innings. Unlike his one-inning, rain-shortened outing in Cleveland on May 31, Moore said the short night won't impact his next start, which will be Thursday against the visiting Rangers.
“I don't see any reason why it would hurt me,” he said. “If anything I think just having some pitches off my arm will benefit me.”
The Rays led 4-0 in the middle of the fourth inning when home plate umpire Jerry Layne called for the grounds crew to pull the tarp across the infield.
Wil Myers started things off in the second inning with another double to right field that landed just inside the foul line. It wasn't hit as far as his double that drove in the winning run Wednesday against Boston to begin the winning streak, but it did lead to what proved to be the winning run Saturday.
James Loney moved Myers to third when he grounded to first. From there, Myers scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Sean Rodriguez.
The Rays made it 2-0 in the third inning when Evan Longoria's two-out doubled scored Jose Lobaton from first base.
The Rays took a 4-0 lead into the rain delay when Delmon Young and Rodriguez opened the fourth inning with singles. Yunel Escobar singled home Young, and Lobaton drove home Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly.
Moore began throwing 50 minutes into the rain delay but stopped when pitching coach Jim Hickey the game wouldn't resume anytime soon.
That's when Maddon began setting up his bullpen as if it were the eighth inning. He was told rain remained in the forecast and wanted to make sure the Rays had the lead if the game reached the end of the fifth inning, when it would become an official game.
That's why he had Brandon Gomes replace Moore in the bottom of the fourth when play resumed.
“I was almost playing that like it was the latter part of the game in the fourth and the fifth inning,” Maddon said.
Gomes retired the Twins in order in the fourth, needing all of 11 pitches, eight of which were strikes.
“I thought Gomer came in and really put some substance to the game right there, some structure, because he was throwing strikes, throwing strikes, a quick inning,” Maddon said.
The official scorer credited Gomes with the victory for his one inning of work.
The Rays added two runs in the sixth inning on a two-out double by Jennings and another in the eighth on Jennings's second double of the night.
Gomes was followed by Wesley Wright, Jamey Wright, Roberto Hernandez and Cesar Ramos. Moore and the five relievers combined on the shutout, the Rays 15th of the year, which tied the single-season team record set in 2012.
The Rays have now won 11 straight against the Twins, their longest winning streak against any team since they won 12 straight against the Baltimore Orioles in 2008. The Rays improved to 12-3 all-time at Target Field, which opened in 2010.