Twins drop finale to Angels
Late comeback falls short; Kubel delivers team's first '08 homer
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' first series of the season against the Angels was billed as Torii Hunter's Homecoming.For the most part, the Twins were able to keep Hunter's offensive production to a minimum as he went just 3-for-16 over the four-game set. But Hunter couldn't leave town without at least one home run in the place he used to call home. The former Twins center fielder belted his first homer of the season, a solo shot to lead off the seventh inning. Hunter's blast was one of three homers that propelled the Angels to a 5-4 victory over the Twins on Thursday afternoon. It was the third straight win for Hunter and his new club and secured the series victory over the Twins. "It felt backwards to be walking from the other dugout and coming into the stadium, walking into the other clubhouse," Hunter said. "It felt weird, but I got past it." It was the Twins who couldn't get past the Angels. After pulling off a tight victory in the home opener, the club wasn't able to get anything going offensively until the sixth inning on Thursday. And that was after the Twins had already fallen into yet another early hole. Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey got off to a solid start, retiring the first six batters he faced, but he found trouble in the third. Slowey (0-1) gave up three runs on three hits in the inning, including a two-run homer by Gary Matthews Jr. to right field. Slowey's start only got worse: He left the game with one out in the fourth inning due to a strained right biceps muscle. He was replaced by right-hander Brian Bass. "We had to a put a little more pressure on our bullpen," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's a lot of innings out there." Bass was able to keep the game at just a three-run deficit until the Twins' offense finally started to show signs of life in the sixth. Angels starter Ervin Santana held the Twins to just one hit over the first five innings. But in the sixth, the club was finally able to get on the board. It came after a drought of 18 innings without a run, as the Twins had not scored since the fifth inning of Tuesday's contest. Carlos Gomez led off the sixth with a bunt down the third-base line. A throwing error by Angels third baseman Chone Figgins advanced Gomez to second. Gomez appeared to have made it all the way to third on the error, but crew chief Charlie Reliford said that the ball went underneath the visitors' bullpen, and under the new rules that's a ground-rule double. The Twins still managed to take advantage of the situation. Joe Mauer laced a double to the right-field corner off Santana, scoring Gomez. Mauer then scored two batters later on a Justin Morneau sacrifice fly to left field to make it a 3-2 game. That one-run deficit wouldn't last long as Bass gave up a pair of solo shots in the top of the seventh - the one to Hunter and a two-out homer to catcher Mike Napoli. a two-out shot to catcher Mike Napoli. Those were the only two runs he allowed in his 3 1/3 innings of relief. "That was a tough one," Gardenhire said of the two dingers. "We're right back in it, and [they get] a couple of tough ones before you can do anything." The Twins still managed to make a late push, pulling within one run. Minnesota added a run in the seventh. With the bases loaded and one out, Mauer hit a sac fly to left that scored Brendan Harris from third. Jason Kubel hit the team's first home run of the season, a 408-foot solo shot, in the eighth. But like the night before, in a 1-0 loss to the Angels, the Twins just couldn't come up with the big hit when it counted. Pinch-hitter Matt Tolbert drew a one-out walk in the ninth off Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez. After Gomez struck out and Mauer was walked, Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with the opportunity to tie the game. But on a 3-2 count, Cuddyer struck out swinging on what appeared to be a curveball. The Twins' Nos. 3-5 hitters went a combined 1-for-11 on Thursday, with a walk and just one RBI. And the feeling is that when those hitters come around, so will the team. "The last three games we did not hit a lot," Gomez said. "The big guy in the lineup [Morneau], he is a little bit struggling now. But maybe later in the season, I know we can beat this team." Dropping three out of their first four isn't the way the Twins wanted to start the season. But considering how close they were to making at least two of those losses victories, the Twins came out of the series vs. a tough Angels squad feeling optimistic about what the club can still do. "This series could have gone either way," Gardenhire said. "One big hit today and maybe one last night too, and we're in a different situation. We gave ourselves a chance. If we keep staying after it, guys are going to learn on the go here and we'll get better and better. "We're battling, and playing good baseball," Cuddyer added. "We put ourselves in a good situation to win. Unfortunately, we just didn't get it done. Hopefully, this just makes us a better team."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.