Game 2 loss puts Twins on brink
Hunter misses big play; Bonser solid through six
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins know the feeling of having their backs against the wall pretty well. After all, it's the way the club has played for almost the entire season.A rough first two months of the season left the Twins struggling to reach the .500 mark and listening to talk that their season was all but done. Instead of throwing in the towel, the Twins began a remarkable turnaround that not only put them in the playoffs, but earned them a division title. But now the Twins appear to be facing their toughest challenge yet, as they suffered a crushing, 5-2 defeat at the hands of the A's on Wednesday afternoon to fall into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five Division Series. "We haven't done it the easy way yet," Jason Tyner said. "I think we're disappointed that we didn't win some games here at home, but by no means do we feel like the series is over. We just feel like we have to go and do exactly what they did to us." Heading on the road with every game being a must-win is not exactly what the Twins expected after earning home-field advantage. Holding a Major League-best 54-27 record at home, the Twins felt great about their chances in the series. Even after losing Game 1 with ace Johan Santana on the mound, the club felt confident that it could turn things around before heading to Oakland. Instead, the club is searching for answers after suffering its seventh straight postseason loss at the Metrodome. "It's crazy, because we played so well at home during the course of the year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But it's playoff baseball and anything can happen." One thing's for sure -- the Twins can't blame their starting pitching for either of the two losses. Boof Bonser looked more like a veteran on the mound than a rookie on Wednesday, not giving up a run until the fifth inning. That's when Bonser gave up two straight doubles to Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro, scoring one run and giving Oakland a 1-0 lead. One out later, Jason Kendall lined a shot to left to drive Scutaro in from second base and put the A's up, 2-0. The right-handed rookie held the A's to just two runs on seven hits over six innings, walking just one and striking out three as he threw a total of 87 pitches. But while Bonser delivered the outing the Twins had hoped to see, the club's offense didn't play the type of ball that got the Twins to the playoffs. "Our pitcher is throwing the ball good," Gardenhire said. "We are just not making enough contact and driving in enough runs." One day after being shut down by Barry Zito, this time it was A's starter Esteban Loaiza who gave the Twins fits, holding Minnesota scoreless over the first five innings.
It wasn't like the Twins didn't have chances. Three times in the first five innings, the Twins recorded back-to-back hits to put runners on first and second. But all of those hits came with two outs."We wanted to get good pitches and be able to drive them," right-fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that with less than two outs." Only once in the game were the Twins able to get hits with fewer than two outs, and that came in the sixth. Cuddyer and Justin Morneau blasted back-to-back home runs off Loaiza to lead off the inning. Cuddyer took a full-count pitch deep to left field and Morneau followed with a 426-foot shot to right on a 1-2 pitch. It was only the second time in club history that two players have belted consecutive home runs in the postseason, the last coming on Oct. 4, 1970. The consecutive long balls knotted the game at 2, and the Twins felt that momentum had swung their way. "For pretty much the whole year, it's been us coming from behind with a late-inning rally, so when we had some runs we thought, 'OK, here we go again,'" shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "We felt that now it was going to be a battle to win this game."
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That battle quickly turned in the other direction in the seventh. Rookie reliever Pat Neshek came in and recorded one quick out before giving up a single to Mark Ellis. A missed double play kept the inning going with a runner still on first, and that's when trouble really hit.With two outs in the inning, Mark Kotsay came to the plate and delivered a line shot to center field that skipped just past the glove of a diving Torii Hunter. The ball carried all the way to the wall, and by the time that Cuddyer was able to get to the ball, Kotsay had hit a rare inside-the park home run and Oakland had a 4-2 lead. Diving to make such a catch on a tough play was the turning point in the game but afterward, no one was pointing fingers at the five-time Gold Glove winner for the loss. "He's going all out," catcher Joe Mauer said. "He's made those plays before. He took a chance and it didn't work. Sometimes it happens." Coming back from a 2-0 hole may seem like a daunting task, but the Twins have one thing on their side -- history. Twice in the past five years, the A's have blown 2-0 leads in a Division Series, once in 2001 and again in 2003. "There's hope," Hunter said. "I really hadn't thought about that. Any time you go up 2-0, it's not over yet. We've had a three-game winning streak before, so we just hope we can get that three-game winning streak and win this thing."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.