ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted checking the out-of-town scoreboard and liking what he saw.
Sean Rodriguez and B.J. Upton hit three-run homers and Tampa Bay beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 on Tuesday night, winning for the 10th time in 11 games and taking over first place in the AL East.
Rodriguez homered in the first inning. Upton put the Rays ahead 6-3 with his tiebreaking drive in the seventh.
Jeff Niemann (10-3) allowed three runs and eight hits over seven innings. Tampa Bay moved one game ahead of the New York Yankees, who lost to Toronto 8-2.
"Obviously it's nice," Maddon said. "I'm looking at the scoreboard; I knew the Yankees had lost. Probably a lot of the other guys did, too. We want to be in first place. We want to win the division. Now, it's up to us to maintain that position."
Tampa Bay last had sole possession of first place on June 12.
"It's always a good feeling, but there's still a lot of games left," Rodriguez said.
Rafael Soriano allowed an RBI single to Joe Mauer in the ninth before recording his 31st save. Soriano felt soreness after hitting his left knee on the ground covering first base during the inning.
"It will be fine," he said.
Mauer was back in the starting lineup and went 3 for 4 with three RBIs as the designated hitter. The reigning American League MVP, dealing with tendinitis in his right shoulder, sat out two straight games after receiving a cortisone shot in the shoulder on Saturday. It has not been determined when Mauer will play behind the plate.
"Just have to go day by day with him and see how his arm feels," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game. "The one thing we want to do is make sure we give him plenty of time to let his arm heal."
Minnesota got a homer from Drew Butera. Brian Duensing gave up three runs and four hits in six innings.
After pinch-hitters John Jaso and Matt Joyce drew one-out walks from Matt Guerrier (1-6) in the seventh, Upton hit his ninth homer of the season into the left-field seats.
"I can't lie, it felt pretty good," Upton said.
Guerrier is 0-3, allowing eight runs over two innings, in three games against Tampa Bay ths year.
Tampa Bay went ahead 3-1 in the first on Rodriguez's three-run shot off Nick Blackburn, his first homer since July 4. Rodriguez had just one RBI in his previous 14 games.
It was the first homer allowed by a Twins pitcher in 310 plate appearances.
Butera tied it at 3 with a solo homer in the seventh.
Mauer put the Twins up 1-0 on a first-inning RBI single. His RBI single in the third cut the Minnesota deficit to 3-2.
The Twins loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but failed to score. After Niemann intentionally walked Mauer with runners on second and third, Delmon Young flied out and Jason Kubel popped out.
"We had our chances," Gardenhire said. "They made pitches when they had to."
Young was hitless in five at-bats, including a game-ending grounder with two in the ninth, and had his 12-game hitting streak end.
NOTES: Minnesota 1B Justin Morneau, out with a concussion since July 7, hit in a cage in Minnesota. "Had a good day," Gardenhire said. ... Tampa Bay INF-OF Ben Zobrist (lower back stiffness) could be back in the lineup on Wednesday. ... Twins INF Orlando Hudson (strained right oblique) might return this weekend. ... Rays 1B Carlos Pena (right foot soreness) will have his status evaluated Wednesday. The disabled list is still possible. ... Tampa Bay LF Carl Crawford grounded into just his second double play — coming in his 394th at-bat — this season in the fifth.