Twins lose a tough one in extras
Nathan loses lead in ninth; Hunter hits sixth homer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Nathan's pitches were up. The catwalks at Tropicana Field interfered -- twice. Together, the two spelled disaster in the form of a 10-inning, 4-3 loss to the Devil Rays on Wednesday night.
The Twins took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning thanks to a superb outing by right-hander Boof Bonser and a two-run homer from Torii Hunter, but by then, Minnesota had been thrown off thanks to a strange event that happened an inning before.
Before he made the last out in the eighth inning, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena drove a popup high enough to get tangled in the catwalks suspended from the dome's roof. Reliever Pat Neshek, first baseman Justin Morneau and second baseman Luis Castillo each rushed to the first-base line in hopes of fielding the ball, but it never came down.
It was ruled foul because it entered the catwalk in foul territory, and Pena eventually grounded out to end the inning, but there was damage not seen on the scoreboard.
"I think it kind of freaked us out the first time when the ball didn't come down," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think we're still looking for that ball."
What Gardenhire's statement alluded to was the rare occurrence of a hit caroming off the catwalk not once, but twice, and two innings apart at that. The first time was merely an annoyance, but the second -- also off of Pena's bat -- spelled the end for the Twins' hopes of sweeping the Rays.
After Tampa Bay had tied the game with two ninth-inning runs off of Nathan, Matt Guerrier took over and secured the first out in the 10th. The second hitter, Pena, looped another ball high and in fair territory. Castillo came in to field it, but this time the ball sailed over the catwalk and landed just behind Castillo, which allowed Pena to safely reach first.
Ben Zobrist, Pena's pinch-runner, would score the game-winning run from third two plays later.
"It was a disappointing loss for us," Gardenhire said. "We actually played a good ballgame. You get your closer in the game, and usually you win these ball games.
"Funny things happen in domes, and it got to us tonight."
Still, even in defeat there were some bright points. Torii Hunter clubbed his team high-tying sixth home run of the season to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead in the second inning. The ball, which landed 411 feet away over the wall in straightaway center, extended Hunter's career-high hitting streak to 17 games.
For Hunter, it was just an extension of his red-hot start to the season. The 11-year veteran has hit .400 (26-for-70) over the last 17 games, with 11 doubles, five home runs and 16 RBIs. He has 14 doubles on the year -- just two off the Cubs' Derrek Lee's Majors-leading total -- and 20 extra-base hits, second only to the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (22).
Gardenhire had fond flashbacks of 2006 when discussing Hunter.
"I thought the last month and a half of last year, the ball flew out of the ballpark a lot," Gardenhire said, of Hunter. "He can get hits even when he's not swinging good. He can make things happen, but when he's been seeing the ball as well as he has lately, that's when you see him getting a barrage of home runs.
"He gets in a streak where the ball flies out of the ballpark. "
Bonser also had a reason to smile in the clubhouse afterwards, as the right-hander greatly improved his work with a season high-tying six strong innings in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Bonser coasted through the first four innings before using 24 pitches to muddle through a sticky fifth.
And yet, even after he loaded the bases on a walk, a single and a hit batter on consecutive plays, Bonser made the big pitches to get out of the inning, limiting the damage to just a single run.
He also lowered his ERA from 6.26 to 4.55.
"Every time I go out, I try to make progress," Bonser said. "Tonight was definitely a lot better. Just getting out of my jams, that was the big thing right there."
If not for the catwalk and its domino-like effect, Bonser would likely have been celebrating his first win of the year. Instead, he was forced to resign the game to fate.
"Seriously, you don't even see that," Bonser said. "Look at [the Metrodome]. It seems like it only hits the speakers once in a while. For something like that to happen twice ... I guess you could just say it's one of those games."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.