ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Jake Odorizzi got a little extra enjoyment from his latest win.
Odorizzi pitched six scoreless innings to lower his AL-best ERA to 1.96, and the Minnesota Twins held off the Tampa Bay Rays for a 9-7 victory Sunday.
The right-hander, who went 40-37 with the Rays from 2013-17, took the mound as an opponent for the first time at Tropicana Field.
“I’d be lying if I wasn’t more excited for this game than maybe some other ones just because I spent so much time here,” Odorizzi said. “They were great to me when I was here. It wasn’t one of those things where it was fueled by hate, it was just fueled by a lot of excitement.”
Odorizzi (8-2) gave up three hits and struck out nine in winning his eighth straight decision. The 29-year-old, who departed with a 7-0 lead, has not allowed a run in six of his last seven starts.
“Jake was great, again,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Minnesota rebounded from a 14-3 loss Thursday night to take the final three games of the series, running baseball’s best record to 40-18. It’s the fastest Minnesota has reached 40 wins.
The Twins will play 16 games within the AL Central through the rest of the month, starting with a three-game series at Cleveland beginning Tuesday night. Minnesota has an 11½-game lead over the Indians and Chicago White Sox.
“It don’t change who we are,” Twins center fielder Byron Buxton said. “We’ve just got to go out there and keep playing the ball that we’re playing, play aggressive and keep having fun.”
The Rays used a five-run seventh to get within two.
“That was encouraging,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “Hopefully we can carry that over because it’s been fairly quiet.”
Kevin Kiermaier had a run-scoring infield hit and Austin Meadows drove in a pair with a single off Matt Magill.
Brandon Lowe picked up another a run-scoring infield single against Ryne Harper, with a second run scoring on second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s throwing error.
Blake Parker replaced Harper, who faced one batter, and struck out Willy Adames looking on a 3-2 pitch with two runners on.
After Schoop hit a two-run homer in the eighth, Christian Arroyo belted a two-run shot in the bottom half off Parker to make it 9-7.
Taylor Rogers struck out the side for his fifth save.
C.J. Cron had a three-run double during a four-run fifth off Ryan Yarbrough (4-2), helping the Twins open a 7-0 lead.
Minnesota extended its franchise single-season record of scoring three-or-more runs to 26 consecutive games.
Yarbrough gave up seven runs and 10 hits over seven innings as Tampa Bay used a traditional starter for the second consecutive game instead of an opener due in part to a taxed bullpen.
“That is one way he helps, he got us deep in the ballgame,” Cash said. “We didn’t have to use a bunch of guys so we should be in a pretty good spot as far as the bullpen and the freshness.”
Buxton had two hits and scored twice. He also made a nifty play in the third when he went back to warning track to catch Yandy Díaz’s drive and then threw to first to double up Austin Meadows.
“You run out of superlatives for the guy,” Baldelli said.
Twins: DH Nelson Cruz (strained left wrist) went 1 for 3 in his second game with Class A Fort Myers and could be back Tuesday.
Rays: OFs Tommy Pham (right calf cramp) and Avisaíl García (hamstring) were both out of the lineup for the third straight game but likely will start Tuesday.
Twins: C Mitch Garver (high left ankle strain) was reinstated from the 10-day injured list and had an RBI single
Rays: Díaz (bruised left hand) returned from the 10-day IL. ... Reliever Jose Alvarado went on the family emergency leave list.
Marwin Gonzalez played right field for the Twins in his fourth different starting position during the series.
“He’s like a one-man stress reliever,” Baldelli said.
Gonzalez also started at third, shortstop and first base.
Twins: LHP Devin Smeltzer (0-0), coming off six scoreless innings in his major league debut Tuesday against Milwaukee, goes against Indians RHP Shane Bieber (4-2) Tuesday night.
Rays: LHP Blake Snell (3-4) and Detroit LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-2) are Tuesday night’s scheduled starters.