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08/24/08 8:59 PM ET
Twins falter late in loss to Angels
Morneau drives in three runs, reaches 100-RBI plateau
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Four days ago, when the Twins headed off for the start of their road trip of 14 games in 15 days, a series split against the Angels would have seemed like a good way to kick it off. But after two straight wins to start the series were followed by the club watching two potential victories disappear in the past two days, the Twins were left on Sunday afternoon feeling like an opportunity was wasted -- particularly after Sunday's 5-3 loss in which Minnesota saw an early three-run vanish in the latter innings. It was a loss that not only cost the Twins a series victory but also the club's hold on first place in the American League Central. The Twins fell to a half-game back of the White Sox with the loss. Chicago rallied earlier in the day to take a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Rays at home. "Coming in here, you'd say a split is pretty good, but we're in a position to get three out of four or maybe even better and then we lost the last two," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Defensively, we didn't play good [Saturday] and today we just missed late with our pitches." The Twins were leading 3-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, thanks to Justin Morneau's 3-for-4 day in which he drove in all three runs. That's when the Angels started their comeback. After tossing five scoreless innings, Kevin Slowey was tagged for his first run by the leadoff hitter in the sixth. The red-hot Mark Teixeira, who went 8-for-14 in the series vs. the Twins with four RBIs, belted a solo homer that cut the Twins' lead to 3-1. Things were made worse in the seventh by another defensive miscue by the club. With a runner on first base, pinch-hitter Mike Napoli hit a ball to left fielder Jason Kubel. Rather than charge in on the hit by Napoli, Kubel was slow to pick up the ball and the Angels' Howie Kendrick was able to advance from first to third on the play. A throwing error by Kubel that bounced off Kendrick's spike also allowed Napoli to reach second. The mistake would lead to another Angels run as Kendrick scored on Chone Figgins' RBI groundout to cut the lead to 3-2. Knowing that the Angels are a team to go first to third if an outfielder isn't going all out, Gardenhire was outwardly frustrated by the blunder. "He nonchalanted it," Gardenhire said of Kubel. "There is no excuse. You have to come up and get the ball." But Kubel appeared to have made up for his blunder when his arching ball hit down the right-field line in the eighth was ruled a home run by first-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. Kubel was circling the bases when Angels manager Mike Scioscia ran out of the dugout to dispute the call and asked for Wendelstedt to get help on the play. The four umpires convened and ruled that the ball was indeed foul. Kubel ended up striking out in the at-bat and the Twins went into the bottom of the eighth still holding a slim one-run lead. It was a lead that wouldn't last for long, as the Angels were able to take advantage of the Twins' bullpen in the eighth, tagging them for a three-run inning. Once again, it was Teixeira providing trouble. Dennys Reyes, who replaced Slowey in the seventh after the back-to-back hits, gave up a leadoff double to the Angels first baseman. Jesse Crain came in for Reyes to face Vladimir Guerrero. The Twins have been using both Crain and Matt Guerrier in eighth-inning situations like that, but Gardenhire said he went with Crain because he wanted fastballs. But after Guerrero hit the first pitch by Crain just foul down the right-field line, landing a few feet beyond the reach of a charging Morneau, the Angels' designated hitter made the right-hander pay on the next pitch. Guerrero belted a fastball, low and away, to center field that went over Carlos Gomez's head and resulted in an RBI triple to tie the score at 3. "I was trying to go in and left it over," Crain said. "That's why you try to go in on him because he can do that to that pitch. Unfortunately, I yanked it a little bit." From there, Crain (5-3) wasn't able to keep the score tied. Another RBI triple to right field by Gary Matthews Jr. and a sacrifice fly by Juan Rivera put the Angels up, 5-3. And what appeared to be a Twins victory early on in the contest turned into another disappointing loss. Perhaps the biggest disappointment came from the fact that when the Twins were still leading, 3-0, in the fifth inning, the White Sox were losing to the Rays. In the end, Chicago managed to stage a comeback while the Twins were unable to hold onto their victory -- a double whammy of the worst kind, it would seem. Not so, the Twins said. "Right now, it feels like every game is do-or-die, but we're not going to win every game the rest of the way," Morneau said. "If we go 20-12 to finish out the season, we're looking at 90-plus wins. I think then we'll be right there for the division lead and Wild Card." As Minnesota packed up for Seattle, the Twins were trying not to dwell on the negatives of their latest loss but rather that they did pull off a split in the series. "You never want to drop the last two games but I feel like we battled them every game," Slowey said. "They are one of the best teams in the league -- record-wise, talent-wise, lineup-wise. ... It's good for us to see that we can definitely play with a team like this for nine innings for four straight days."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.