ST. PETERSBURG -- Four sacrifice flies don't measure up to one Evan Longoria walk-off homer on the excitement meter. However, Tampa Bay's club-record for sacrifice flies did equate to a 6-2 win over Minnesota Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field with a crowd of 26,507 watching.
"You know what, [the sacrifice fly] is very underestimated and it has not been written about enough," Rays manager Joe Maddon teased. "From a spectator's perspective, one of the more boring plays in baseball, but from the dugout's perspective, very exciting. I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see that."
By winning, Tampa Bay claimed its second consecutive series and its fourth win in its last five games while moving to 9-7 on the season.
"We just keep on coming," Carlos Pena said. "We are not going to give up. We are very persistent. We know that if we play our game we're going to give some teams some tough games. They're not going to be easy. And fortunately, today we were able to come out on top and the last two series we were able to take them."
Tampa Bay got to Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano in the third when Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist each drove in a run on sacrifice flies to put Tampa Bay up 2-0.
Longoria led off the Rays' fourth by hitting a drive off the B-ring catwalk in left field. Any ball hitting the B-ring in fair territory is a live ball. By the time the ball ricocheted toward center field and landed on the turf, Longoria stood on second base with a double. After tagging and advancing to third on Jeff Keppinger's flyout, Longoria scored on B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly to left for a 3-0 Rays lead.
Jennings added to the lead with one out in the fifth when he homered on an 0-1 pitch from Liriano. That was Jennings' second round-tripper of the season and it put the Rays up, 5-0.
Tampa Bay held a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth when Pena walked to start the inning and moved to second on a passed ball. Longoria singled up the middle, on a play that normally would have seen Pena score from second. But Pena had to make sure the line drive was not snared, so he headed back to second initially before running to third. Upton then lifted a fly ball to center field. Pena tagged and scored the final run, establishing the new team sacrifice fly record in the process.
Pena smiled when asked about the record, allowing that he had no idea about the obscure record.
"Absolutely not," Pena said. "We like to play small ball. Or just execute the plays when we have the play. We had runners on third base with less than two outs. We wanted to make sure to drive them in. It was actually very nice to hear that today was a very good day in that department."
Jeff Niemann started for the Rays and had an effective afternoon in his third start of the season, allowing two runs on three hits to pick up his first win of the season.
"He's tough," Joe Mauer said. "He's got a great angle. He was tough on me. He was painting corners on me and changing speeds. He was making pitches when he needed to."
Minnesota's best chance to do some damage came in the sixth on a pair of singles and a hit batter, resulting in Niemann getting lifted after 80 pitches so Jake McGee could pitch to Justin Morneau.
"Jeff was pitching really well again," Maddon said. "It just got to that point in the game where we had Jake ready for that Morneau situation in case it popped and it popped. And couldn't walk away from that. Morneau is definitely the kind of guy who can put the ball in the seats. I wanted to make it a little more challenging against the left-hander there. And Jake was wonderful."
McGee struck out Morneau swinging. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire then called upon Ryan Doumit to pinch hit for Chris Parmelee. Maddon countered the move by bringing in right-hander Wade Davis to pitch to the right-hander.
Doumit met the challenge and drove a single to center field to score two and cut the lead to 5-2.
Davis effectively navigated one more inning to bridge the gap to Joel Peralta, who got three outs in the eighth, and, finally, to Fernando Rodney, who recorded the last three outs of the game.
Tampa Bay will be off on Monday and will begin a three-game series at home against the Angels before finishing out a stretch in which the team will have played 26 games in 27 days.
"Now we go home, relax one day, recharge our batteries and come back for the next series, the Angels," Pena said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.