MINNEAPOLIS -- Kirby Yates did not allow history to repeat itself on Sunday by slamming the door on the Twins' hopes of a comeback in a 5-3 Rays win at Target Field.
The Rays have won five straight and 14 of their last 18. Since June 11 they are 23-11. On June 10 the Rays had lost 14 of 15 and were 15 games behind in the American League East. In addition, the Rays have won five of the last six series they've played as they head to St. Louis to begin a two-game set against the Cardinals.
Yates entered Sunday's game toting the baggage of a blown save in his first career save opportunity. That occurred on July 9 when he allowed a three-run homer to the Royals' Salvador Perez in a 5-4 loss.
Sunday afternoon had the trappings for another bad outcome if Yates could not put the memory behind him.
Clinging to a 5-3 lead in the eighth, Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to bring in Jake McGee to pitch to the heart of the Twins' order, rather than face the bottom of the order in the ninth.
"There's your choice," Maddon said. "You've got three-four-five-six coming up, whatever. And you have your best pitcher in the bullpen. Or do you choose to go the traditional way? So we went with Jake right there [rather than have him pitch the ninth]."
That led to struggling Grant Balfour starting the ninth for the Rays, who still held a 5-3 lead.
After Balfour retired Eduardo Escobar to start the inning, he walked pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki and Sam Fuld. That prompted Maddon to bring in the rookie right-hander, Yates.
"[Balfour is] just not right yet," Maddon said. "The command is off. The walks are high."
Yates got Brian Dozier to hit into a fielder's choice to put runners at the corners with two outs for Eduardo Nunez. Yates got ahead 0-2 before Nunez popped into foul territory along the right-field line. Logan Forsythe made a sliding catch to end the game.
"Last time, I'd never been in that situation, ever [in the Major Leagues]," Yates said. "I had nerves, stuff I've never felt before. Today I knew how to control it a little better. Slow things down, and execute some pitches."
Based on Yates' recent history, Maddon gave him extra credit for his performance.
"We did this a couple of days ago and it backfired," Maddon said. "Not only did it backfire, he didn't make the pitches. Kirby came in and did a nice job. Dozier, he can definitely put the ball in the seats and the same thing with Nunez. So he was outstanding."
Yates, who had gone 16-for-16 in save opportunities at Triple-A Durham this season, came away with his first Major League save.
"We won," Yates said. "It's awesome to go for the sweep, we got that and that's all I can ask for. I'm glad I got a save and everything. But winning ballgames is the key."
The Rays got off to a quick start Sunday. Kevin Correia got into a jam when the Rays loaded the bases in the first with no outs. But the Twins' starter retired Evan Longoria on a flyout to right that wasn't deep enough for Desmond Jennings to try for home.
That brought up James Loney, and he looked off while missing a 79-mph curveball for strike two. Loney managed to work the count to 2-2, then lined a cutter into right field to drive home two. Ben Zobrist added a sacrifice fly in the second for a 3-0 Rays lead.
Rays starter Chris Archer proved to be his own worst enemy in the second inning when he threw away Oswaldo Arcia's shot back to the box with one out. Arcia reached second on the play, then scored when Josh Willingham singled to right.
Yunel Escobar doubled home a run in the third and Longoria added an RBI double in the sixth to put the Rays up, 5-1.
Archer escaped a jam in the fifth when the Twins had runners at second and third with one out. He retired Dozier on a pop to first and Nunez on a grounder to short. Archer wasn't so fortunate in the sixth.
Trevor Plouffe and Kendrys Morales started the sixth with singles, and they advanced to second and third when right fielder Kevin Kiermaier allowed Morales' single to roll past him. Archer recovered to strike out Arcia, and he had two strikes on Willingham when he uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Plouffe to score. Willingham then grounded out to score Morales to cut the Rays' lead to 5-3.
Archer allowed one earned run on six hits in 6 1/3 innings to earn his sixth win of the season.
"I think that today was an average day as far as I go," Archer said. "I didn't have my wipeout slider consistently. But I threw some changeups to kind of counteract my slider not quite being where I wanted it to be. And at times when I needed to make pitches with my fastball, I did."
The Twins scored just six runs in the series, and they left eight runners on base Sunday afternoon, prompting Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to lament about his team's missed opportunities. He then praised the Rays' staff.
"Throughout the series here, you're facing really good pitchers," Gardenhire said. "They've got good stuff."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.