Twins can't gain ground on idle Sox
Minnesota's rough road swing continues with tough loss
OAKLAND -- After watching his team suffer its fourth straight loss on Tuesday in Seattle, manager Ron Gardenhire acknowledged that the Twins might have to do something to work themselves out of their offensive funk."We're going to have to force the issue -- try to do some more running in situations and take more chances," Gardenhire said. After picking up a dramatic win on their way out of Seattle on Wednesday, the Twins felt like perhaps they had gotten the spark that they needed. And opening up their four-game series against the A's on Thursday night, the Twins tried to generate more offense But once again, the club saw its effort fall flat. An inability to score runs early left the ballgame up to the bullpen. And for the third time in five days, it was Jesse Crain on the mound when the game was won by the other team. A walk-off double by Kurt Suzuki off Crain handed the Twins a 3-2 loss to the A's and dropped them 1 1/2 games behind the White Sox in the American League Central race. "Another disappointing loss," Gardenhire said afterward. "Once again, we just didn't have enough offense tonight." But while the bullpen wasn't able to maintain a tie and send the game to extras, it was the inability of the Twins to get runners into scoring position and drive in runs earlier in the contest that they were left lamenting. Minnesota grounded into a total of four double plays in the contest, three of which occurred in the first five innings, and Gardenhire said it was a result of his hitters not paying attention to the situations on the basepaths. "We got some stolen bases tonight, but we could have had more, could have had more runners in scoring position," Gardenhire said. "We seem to be swinging when we're running, not in hit-and-run situations, just when we're running. We have to do a better job of recognizing that." Twins starter Nick Blackburn delivered another decent effort, giving up two runs on six hits over his 5 2/3 innings. But while Blackburn gave his team a chance to win, the Twins dropped to 0-4 in Blackburn's past four starts. "It's frustrating," Blackburn said. "I feel like I made 94, 95 good pitches and the three you don't, hurt you. The way it's going right now, any time there is a mistake made it ends up hurting me." The A's tagged Blackburn for the first of two runs in the fourth. Frank Thomas led off with a double to left field and Ryan Sweeney followed with a single to center that moved Thomas to third. In the ensuing at-bat, Alexi Casilla was able to make a standout nab and throw from his glove to induce a 4-6-3 double play, but Thomas scored on the play. The Twins knotted the game at 1 in the sixth off A's starter Dana Eveland. Minnesota loaded the bases with one out and Justin Morneau's sacrifice fly to left field scored Denard Span from third base. It was the Major League-leading 57th sac fly of the season for the Twins. But just as quickly as they tied the game, Blackburn gave it back. The Twins right-hander gave up another leadoff double, this one by Bobby Crosby. He then issued a two-out walk to Sweeney, determined not to give in to the outfielder who just came off the disabled list. Blackburn then faced the left-handed-hitting Daric Barton. Although Dennys Reyes was ready in the 'pen, Barton was hitting .270 off lefties while .193 against righties, and Gardenhire stuck with his starter. But Barton hit a bloop single to left field that scored Crosby from second and put Oakland up 2-1. "That's our starter and we're not going to take him out there," Gardenhire said. "He deserves to be out there to get that out. He made a good pitch, he just blooped it." Minnesota took Blackburn off the hook for the loss by tying the game up again in the seventh off Eveland. Delmon Young's ball to right field turned into a double on a poor fielding play by Sweeney. Nick Punto's one-out RBI single to center then made it a 2-2 ballgame. After the Twins failed to push a run over the next two innings, the game was handed over to the bullpen. Left-hander Craig Breslow (0-2) started the inning and allowed a leadoff single that was feathered to center field to Ryan Sweeney. A sacrifice bunt by Barton moved the winning run into scoring position before Crain came in to face pinch hitter Emil Brown. Crain got ahead of Brown 0-2, before eventually walking the hitter. "He made some tough pitches, and you have a base open there so you can't give in totally, even to Emil Brown," Gardenhire said. "But to get ahead 0-2, you have to find a way to put him away. That's a big out because we know Suzuki is coming up on deck." With the walk Suzuki then came to a plate. And on a 3-1 pitch, Suzuki belted a shot to left-center field that bounced off the wall and gave Oakland the walk-off win. It was the second walk-off pinch-hit of the season for Suzuki. "We're on a long roadtrip and we have been battling things," Gardenhire said of his team that is now just 3-5 on their 14-game roadtrip. "We're just trying to figure out how to do a little better job ourselves on the roadtrip. And we know what happens here with us and the A's, it's always a battle."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.