ST. PETERSBURG -- Samuel Deduno wouldn't attribute his outing's disappointing finish to the line drive that bounced off his foot in the second inning. Ron Gardenhire didn't feel Deduno ran out of gas after working out of a few jams, either.
No, Monday night's 7-4 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field essentially swung on a high, hanging changeup that Deduno threw to Yunel Escobar to lead off the seventh inning. Escobar bashed the 0-1 pitch into the left-field seats, breaking a 3-3 tie and prompting Tampa Bay to break the game open.
The Twins have now dropped eight of their last nine and 13 of their last 17.
Deduno had given the Twins the kind of start they needed, allowing three runs through six innings. But Desmond Jennings followed up Escobar's homer with a triple to chase Deduno from the game. He was charged with five runs on two walks and a season-high 10 hits.
"He hung in there pretty decent, especially after getting blasted off the foot with that rocket out there," Gardenhire said, referring to James Loney's line drive that bounced off Deduno's foot. "To hang out there as long as he did was pretty good. We were real comfortable with him. Just a couple hitters in the seventh, and there you have it. You're down, man on third and no outs."
And the Rays didn't let up when reliever Caleb Thielbar came in. The lefty struck out Luke Scott, who had homered in the first inning, to run his scoreless streak to 20 innings. But Ben Zobrist crushed a belt-high fastball over the heart of the plate deep to left field for a two-run homer, ending the rookie's perfect ERA and giving the Rays a 6-3 lead.
"I just left a pitch up in the zone. [If I] get it in there, he probably flies out to short left or something," Thielbar said. "You've got to try to keep the game close there, and I didn't really do that. Didn't really give us a chance to win those last two innings. It wasn't ideal."
According to Rays manager Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay was lucky to beat Minnesota with the long ball. The numbers would back that up, as Deduno had given up two homers over his previous eight starts combined before serving up two on Monday. And Thielbar hadn't allowed so much as a hit in nearly a month.
"I think we were kind of fortunate to have all those home runs," Maddon said. "And then they bring in that lefty nobody has hit, Thielbar, so I'm pleased with that."
Center fielder Aaron Hicks provided something of a silver lining for the Twins, finishing with a career-high four hits, including two doubles and a triple, as he fell a homer short of Minnesota's first cycle since May 22, 2009.
In seven games since coming off the disabled list on July 2, Hicks has hit .400 (10-for-25) with three doubles, a triple and a homer. Hicks said he's just being more aggressive in his at-bats, covering the plate better and hitting balls solid, a welcome development considering the .190 average Hicks carried into Monday's game.
"I'm swinging the bat pretty good right now," Hicks said, "so I want to keep it going and help the team win more ballgames."
"He's a little more confident. Got some pitches and didn't miss them," added Gardenhire. "Earlier, he was missing those pitches or rolling over them or popping them up. But I think he's comfortable right now. Hopefully he'll continue. That's kind of what we saw in Spring Training. We'll see if he can kind of keep that pace going. That's nice to see."
It wasn't so nice to see the fourth-inning baserunning blunders that may have cost the Twins a few runs, however. Justin Morneau had just tied the game at 2 on a solo homer to lead off the fourth -- a blast that tied him with Bob Allison for fourth on the Twins' all-time home run list, with 211.
Trevor Plouffe singled to center off Rays starter Roberto Hernandez, and Oswaldo Arcia laced a base hit that pushed Plouffe to third. Right fielder Wil Myers threw to Evan Longoria at third base, and, as he tried to tag out Plouffe, Arcia lost sight of the ball and attempted to stretch his single into a double but was thrown out.
"Just got to make sure there's no outs there," Gardenhire said. "Could be a big inning."
It still could have been, as Chris Parmelee drove in Plouffe with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2. Hicks then knocked a two-out single to center, only to be picked off at first by catcher Jose Molina. In all, the Twins went 4-for-4 with a homer and a sac fly in the inning, but managed only two runs thanks to their baserunning mistakes.
"You've got to be aggressive but, at the same time, not make outs like that," Hicks said.
Added Gardenhire: "Silly stuff like that will end up shooting you in the end. And it did."