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Missed chances hurt Rays against Twins

July 4, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Early in Monday’s game, the Rays were hitting the ball hard, and it looked as though they would have their way with Twins lefty Brian Duensing.

But in the fifth, Duensing took control and cruised for his second career shutout. He shut down the Rays throughout the game but was especially impressive late in the Rays’ 7-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field.

“We had chances, and I really thought we were swinging the bats well early,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we got to about the fifth inning, I think it was, we stopped hitting anything well. But we had our moments.”

One of those moments came in the first inning.

Johnny Damon led off the game with a single, and Sean Rodriguez followed with another. After Evan Longoria flied out to left, B.J. Upton walked to load the bases with one out.

The Rays were in position to take an early lead, but Duensing got Justin Ruggiano to ground into an inning-ending double play instead.

An inning later, Casey Kotchman singled to lead off the inning, but Duensing quickly got two outs on another double-play ball from Kelly Shoppach.

The last of the Rays’ chances came in the fourth. Upton led off with a single but was called out as he attempted to steal second base. Replays showed that he may have beaten the tag.

“If that play had been called differently, it could’ve been a different moment for us right there,” Maddon said.

Kotchman followed with a single that would likely have scored Upton, and Shoppach then walked, setting up an opportunity for All-Star right fielder Matt Joyce to deliver a two-out RBI. Joyce hit the ball hard toward the hole on the right side, but Alexi Casilla made a diving stop at second base to save a run.

Had Joyce hit the ball a foot or two in either direction, it could have been the start of a rally.

“Yeah, absolutely, I think it might have got us going,” Joyce said. “Obviously, it would have put a run on the board. I don’t know if it would have scored two, but you know what? We hit a lot of balls hard today, [we] just hit them right at ’em.”

Whereas the Rays were unable to take advantage of their early opportunities, the Twins jumped on lefty David Price in the second.

With a runner on and one out in the second, Price gave up a single, a walk and a double to the bottom third of the Twins’ order, putting three runs on the board. In the fourth, he surrendered a solo home run to fellow All-Star Michael Cuddyer, a 443-foot blast into the second deck in left.

Price finished the afternoon with four runs allowed on five hits, six strikeouts and one walk. After Cuddyer’s home run, he settled in nicely, retiring nine in a row and 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.

“It’s disappointing,” Price said. “I got outpitched. … I felt like I threw the ball fine, [but] it’s not good enough. I gave up four runs in six innings.”

As did Price, Duensing looked much better in the second half of his outing than in the first.

After walking Elliot Johnson to lead off the fifth, Duensing retired 10 batters in a row and 15 of the last 16 Rays to come to the plate. Over the last five innings, the Rays had just two baserunners, one on Johnson’s walk and the other on an eighth-inning single by Rodriguez.

“It’s frustrating,” Joyce said. “It’s frustrating to keep going and keep grinding through it.

“For me it’s been a frustrating month. You hit hard balls right at people, and they don’t fall, and then your next at-bat, they make a perfect pitch or something, or you miss your pitch. It’s just one of those things. You really have to grind it out.”

While the Rays were struggling to even reach base late in the game, Twins third baseman Danny Valencia connected for a three-run blast off right-hander Adam Russell in the eighth, giving Duensing even more wiggle room when as he returned for the ninth.

Duensing, who beat the Rays in April at Tropicana Field, delivered his best outing of the season, giving up just six hits over nine shutout innings, walking four and recording seven. Against the Rays this season, hw is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, having allowed just two runs in 16 innings.

It was his second career shutout, with the other coming on Aug. 14, 2010, when he tossed a three-hitter against the A’s.

“I was real excited [with] how it turned out,” Duensing said. “It didn’t start as well as I wanted it to. But the defense made great plays behind me to keep me in it. And the next thing you know, the offense started scoring runs against David Price, who has pretty good stuff.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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