Rough night for 'pen erases strong start
Hughes, Thome go deep but Tigers rally for 10 unanswered
DETROIT -- To call Wednesday night's sixth inning disastrous for the Twins might be an understatement.An inning that began with the Twins holding a one-run lead turned into a debacle -- where things only seemed to get worse as the frame progressed. And in the end, it took only four pitches for the Twins to watch a tie game turn into an 11-6 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. Jesse Crain gave up three straight doubles in the span of four pitches, leading to five Tigers runs and capping off what had already been a miserable inning and a painful shift in momentum for Minnesota. Starter Scott Baker faltered, and the Twins gave up 10 unanswered runs after leading 6-1. "We lose a ballgame where we thought we had control early," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We were swinging good. We were playing good. It just kind of went the other way and went bad after. The bullpen just didn't come in and finish it off for us." Things began seemingly well enough in the frame for the Twins, as rookie reliever Alex Burnett headed out for his second inning of work. Burnett had taken over in the fifth for Baker, who gave up a leadoff double after reducing his club's five-run lead to just one run the previous inning. After giving up an infield single to leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, Burnett was pulled out of the game in lieu of left-hander Ron Mahay, who was called upon to face Johnny Damon. On the seventh pitch, Damon hit a fly ball into the left-center field gap and center fielder Denard Span -- who was running on a dead sprint from the opposite gap -- appeared, at least upon first glance, to have caught the ball. Within a few moments, the ball wound up on the ground, and then came the dispute between the Twins and the umpires as to what happened to cause it. The Twins believed it was a catch, that the ball bounced out of Span's glove as he tried to transfer it to his throwing hand. The umpires, who Gardenhire convened with on the play, felt that Span never got the ball to his throwing hand, so it was ruled an error. "Funny things happened that inning," Crain said. "Obviously, that Span catch is right in front of us. It looked like he caught it, but they didn't see it that way." And from there, momentum shifted to Detroit. Gardenhire was ejected for the first time this season as he continued to argue with home-plate umpire Gary Darling about the play. But perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing, since the manager didn't get to stick around to see firsthand what happened next with his bullpen -- which had been a steady force for the club so far this season. Pat Neshek, who missed 10 days earlier this month due to a strained flexor tendon in his right middle finger, took over for Mahay. He walked the first batter, Magglio Ordonez, on four pitches to load the bases and then knotted the game at 6 when he struck Miguel Cabrera with a pitch. That's when Crain entered the game, and before he could even take a breath, the Tigers managed to drive in five runs thanks to three straight doubles in the span of just four pitches. Rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch hit a first-pitch fastball from Crain to drive in two runs, Brandon Inge hit another first-pitch fastball for a two-run double and Ryan Raburn drilled an 0-1 slider for a double to left field -- adding yet another run. "The first two pitches, they are all over the fastball," Crain said. "Just something to take in and remember the next time you go in there. We went to the mound and we wanted a sinker down, and that's what I threw, and that's what he did with it. Maybe next time, throw a curveball or something off-speed, but it just didn't happen. You see the next couple innings, I mixed stuff up and it works out. It's the life of a reliever. You go in during those big situations, and everybody is amped up, and they are out there swinging early." It was a rough stretch for a bullpen that entered the contest boasting a 2.33 ERA, which ranked second in baseball behind only Colorado (2.12). But perhaps the real disappointment for the Twins came in that fact that they had already witnessed their big lead disappear in the fourth inning at the hands of their starter. Coming off a rough start against the Indians in which he gave up six runs in 5 2/3 innings, Baker managed to get through the first three innings against the Tigers without much damage. But after his offense handed him a 6-1 lead to take into the bottom of the fourth, Baker couldn't hold it. Inge led off the inning with his third homer of the year and Damon drove in a run on an RBI groundout. With two on and two out in the inning, Ordonez delivered a two-run single to right field that pulled Detroit within a run. Baker came back out for the start of the fifth, but promptly gave up a leadoff double to Boesch. That led to Gardenhire pulling Baker, who had thrown just 80 pitches in his four-plus innings while allowing five runs on nine hits. "I was kind of flying open a little bit," Baker said of his troubles in the fourth. "I couldn't really make the adjustment that I needed to make to get the ball down to be effective. There were pitches that I did OK with and then there were some that were not located very well. Anytime you have a significant lead like that, it doesn't feel good to let it squander away." The rough pitching night for the Twins erased what had been a strong offensive start to the game by the club. A pair of homers put the Twins on the board early in the contest. Jim Thome added to his impressive resume at Comerica Park, recording his 14th home run at the ballpark and career home run No. 568 with a two-run shot to the visiting bullpen in left-center field. In the third, Tigers starter Max Scherzer gave up a leadoff solo homer to Luke Hughes in his first Major League at-bat. The Twins managed to knock Scherzer out of the contest early, tagging him for six runs on 10 hits in just 3 2/3 innings. But they couldn't do anything off the bullpen, and the Tigers' rally held up. Now the Twins head into Thursday needing a win over the Tigers in the series finale to keep their streak alive, having won each of their first six series of the season.
One of the keys will be to forget what happened on Wednesday night.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.