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Wait a sec, they're in second

Stumbles and high-wire acts aside, Rays hold off Twins to catch up with Blue Jays.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 4, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG -- There were a lot of unusual things going on Thursday at Tropicana Field.

There was a mannequin in a Twins uniform playing defense on a catwalk. Carl Crawford the contestant in the nightly stumble around the bases contest. The usually tidy Twins making three errors. Carlos Pena, for the third time in two games, hitting a ball off a catwalk, this time above centerfield for a homer.

And, after the 6-4 win over Minnesota, there was this: the Rays 13-15 finishing the night tied for second place, the first time -- seriously -- they've been that high this deep into a season since May 8, 1999.

And this: manager Joe Maddon cautioning the Rays about getting too comfortable with their success.

"One of our concerns always is when we do a couple good things then we have this tendency to relax a little bit, " Maddon said. "We think we're pretty good sometimes. We're getting better. I don't want us to relax. I want us to keep pushing."

As weird as all that was, the Rays won the game for reasons that are becoming somewhat commonplace.

James Shields, who has become their most consistent starter, provided another quality outing. B.J. Upton, hitting an American League-leading .381, delivered another clutch hit. And Al Reyes, after another shaky middle-relief effort, came on to save the day for the 10th time.

Shields (3-0) gave the Rays a solid 7 1/3 innings, striking out eight to match Johan Santana for the AL lead with 45. But it was what he did in the fifth, with the Rays up 5-1, that was most impressive. The Twins loaded the bases without a ball traveling more than 60 feet -- on a hit batter and two bunt singles -- with the middle of their lineup coming up.

But Shields struck out reigning AL batting champion Joe Mauer, then got AL MVP Justin Morneau to ground into an inning-ending double play.

"The way the bases got loaded and the way they got unloaded, he kept his composure nicely, and that's one of the areas we've really been stressing, " manager Joe Maddon said. "He did, and he made some wonderful pitches."

Shields knew how big of a moment it was. "I was pretty pumped up, " he said. "When you have bases loaded, no outs and your team just gave you a four-run lead, it's a real big stop to get us back in the dugout."

The Twins whittled the lead to 5-4 with a sequence of singles, choppers and a key walk off Shawn Camp and had the bases loaded, two outs and the M&M boys up again. This time Juan Salas got the big out, retiring Mauer on a grounder.

Pena laughed during batting practice at the mannequin, hovering above home plate near the spots he hit in two at-bats Wednesday, then looked to the outfield. "I was like, 'I don't like this catwalk, I want to hit the other catwalk, '" he said. "It's just funny how it worked out that way."

"That's what, three rafters in two games?" Maddon said. "I think that's a modern-day baseball record. You probably want to check that with the Elias Sports Bureau."

It was the kind of night there were lots of things to look up.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801.