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TB@MIN: Rays start game with five straight hits

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was like a winter wonderland Wednesday at Target Field, complete with snow, Santa Claus and Christmas carols.

Baseball is not typically played in snow globe-like conditions and "Let It Snow" usually is not played over the loudspeaker. But none of that stopped the Rays from heating up at the plate and taking the series opener, 8-2, from the Twins.

After having Tuesday's game postponed until Thursday due to inclement weather, it wasn't much nicer Wednesday in the Twin Cities. The game time temperature was a chilly 40 degrees, with a 17-mph wind making it feel like it was closer to 30.

"It felt a lot warmer in the first inning," Rays manager Joe Maddon quipped, referring to his team's four-run outburst in the opening frame.

Leading off the game, left fielder Sam Fuld crushed a 2-2 fastball deep to right field, barely missing a home run, for an easy double. Designated hitter Johnny Damon followed with a single to center field, plating Fuld and putting the Rays up 1-0 just nine pitches into the game.

That one-two punch of Fuld and Damon at the top of the order has been sparking the Rays lately as they've become one of the hottest teams in baseball, and they did it again against lefty Francisco Liriano and the Twins.

Damon was followed by a B.J. Upton double, and they both scored one batter later on Ben Zobrist's two-run triple. Zobrist then scored on a Sean Rodriguez single. Five batters into the game, Tampa Bay had five hits and four runs on the board, with no outs.

"The bats were hot even though we weren't yet," Zobrist said. "It looked like it was tough for both pitchers to kind of get everything going the first inning, fortunately we capitalized on it."

After Liriano appeared to settle in over the next two innings, he struggled again in the fourth, giving up a leadoff single and walking a pair before being lifted from the game. Liriano finished with seven runs allowed on six hits over three-plus innings, with four walks and four strikeouts.

"I was just leaving the ball up in the zone," Liriano said of his slow start. "It was a cold night, so it wasn't fun to pitch. I just couldn't get comfortable and was making mistakes."

Liriano's replacement, right-hander Eric Hacker, did not fair much better, walking in a pair of runs with the bases loaded and giving up a sacrifice fly to center field to Zobrist, which made it 7-1.

Zobrist finished 1-for-4 on the night with three RBIs and a run scored.

Davis struggled in the third and seventh, but was otherwise in command throughout. Scattering seven hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings, Davis gave up one run in the third on a Jason Kubel single, which scored Matt Tolbert, and another in the seventh on Alexi Casilla's sacrifice fly.

"He was throwing strikes," said Twins center fielder Denard Span of Davis. "We fell behind in the early innings and he threw the ball over the plate. In conditions like this, that's all you want your pitcher to do, just to throw strikes and let the hitters get out."

The early lead helped Davis out, too. With a four-run cushion before he stepped on the mound, Davis was able to pitch to contact while looking to jam hitters inside.

Davis also was one of the few players on the night not wearing much extra clothing to stay warm. A native of Lake Wales, Fla., pitching in snow was a first for Davis, but he stuck with the short sleeves because that's what he's used to wearing.

"I've seen snow, never pitched in it before," Davis said. "I tried it before, and I just don't feel comfortable with [long sleeves].

"You've just got to grind it out."

Maddon, along with most players, were dressed with just the opposite mindset of Davis. They wore as much clothing as possible, including special hats with ear flaps to keep warm.

Many in attendance embraced the wintry weather.

At least one fan dressed as Santa was sighted in the stands, which was even more appropriate when "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," was heard at one point between innings. Another group, shown both on the television broadcast and the video board at the ballpark, was seen shirtless and enjoying ice cream.

"I loved it, I thought that was appropriate, well-done, well thought out," Maddon said of the Christmas carols played throughout the game. "My compliments. And also to the fans of the Minnesota Twins. To show up en masse like that, under these circumstances, I really thought that was kind of unbelievable. It indicates what a great fan base they have here."

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