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CLEVELAND -- Livan Hernandez was hit hard early, and so was Carlos Gomez, who was carted off the field after crashing into the left-field wall, in the suddenly reeling Twins' 5-4 loss to the Indians.
The loss marked the Twins' fifth straight, and after Chicago's comeback victory at Detroit, dropped them to 3 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading White Sox.
This loss may have hurt Gomez more than the Twins, who chipped away at a five-run Tribe advantage and almost stole the game late, a positive sign to manager Ron Gardenhire.
"It's a disappointing loss to get behind early like that," Gardenhire said. "We battled pretty hard, got it close there in the end and got a chance to tie it up.
"We kept playing. We played hard."
While the Twins can come back Saturday and shake off Friday's loss, the pain Gomez is feeling likely won't go away any time soon.
It came at the sake of Hernandez's inability to keep the ball down in the first inning Friday night.
After allowing back-to-back singles to kick off his start, Hernandez hung a curveball to Ben Francisco, who launched it to left-center field. Gomez, the centerpiece of the deal that sent Johan Santana to the Mets before the season, tracked it down with a leaping crash, but slammed his side and back against the wall in the process.
The play resulted in a sacrifice fly, as Grady Sizemore tagged from second base as Gomez writhed in pain, clutching his lower back.
"When I hit the ground, I'm crying like a baby," Gomez said. "I felt like I had something broken."
Fortunately for Gomez, who was taken to Lutheran Hospital in Cleveland, no broken bones showed up in his MRI. He arrived back at Progressive Field shortly after Friday's game and was noticeably hobbling. Gomez's back hurt so much, he said, that he was feeling dizzy from the pain.
"I've never felt pain like this in my life," Gomez said.
The pain got worse for the Twins after Gomez's exit as Hernandez surrendered another sacrifice fly and a two-run double to Kelly Shoppach, which sent another scare through the Twins' dugout as Denard Span crashed into the same exact spot as he tried to prevent the two-out blow from falling.
"I had pitchers getting their stuff on," Gardenhire joked. "All the guys were starting to twist and turn in the dugout, and we kept running into the wall. That's why we wanted Livo to keep the ball down."
,From that point on, Hernandez did keep the ball down, for the most part. The veteran right-hander allowed a Franklin Gutierrez solo homer in the second inning, but was able to avoid trouble from there to pick up his second complete game of the season.
"Warming up and early in the game, I felt too loose," Hernandez said. "As it got going, I was pitching better and better. I got out of a lot of bad situations."
Already down by five heading into the third inning, the situation was too severe for the Twins to overcome, especially with All-Star Cliff Lee on the mound.
Span's RBI single in the third inning and Joe Mauer's RBI double in the sixth were the only flashes of offense the Twins had against Lee, who picked up his league-leading 14th win at the Twins' expense.
"When you get behind Cliff Lee, you're kind of in trouble," Gardenhire said. "It was a long night at the plate."
The long night was almost forgotten in a hurry when Lee handed the ball to the beleaguered Tribe bullpen, which seemingly gave the Twins new life.
After Mauer led off with a single, Justin Morneau connected off Masa Kobayashi for his 16th home run of the season, to bring the score to 5-4. Three pitches later, Delmon Young was on second base after a double, putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs.
But after the Tribe went to Rafael Perez, all the momentum, and luck, seemed to be lost. Craig Monroe's sharp liner to first baseman Ryan Garko made the first out, and back-to-back groundouts from Brendan Harris and Nick Punto sealed the Twins' fate.
"We got back into the game against Lee and made a run at them anyway," Gardenhire said. "All we can ask for is for them to compete, and we'll get back to winning."