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09/18/08 1:29 AM ET
Late mistakes continue to haunt Twins
Seventh-inning error costly as Minnesota stays 2 1/2 back
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Looking ahead at the three contests the Twins were set to play against the Indians this week, Wednesday night's game undoubtedly looked to be the most unlikely chance for a victory. The Twins were facing Indians left-hander Cliff Lee, who leads the Majors with his 22 wins and entered the contest with an 11-game winning streak. So when Minnesota was able to knock Lee out of the game in the seventh inning with the game tied at 4 and having kept him from a potential 23rd win, it seemed like perhaps the big momentum swing the Twins had been seeking. Maybe this was the time when Minnesota finally seizes an opportunity to make its push for the American League Central title. But just like so many other times in recent weeks, it was yet another night of bullpen troubles for the Twins that proved costly. Back-to-back doubles by the Indians off Matt Guerrier in the bottom of the seventh led to a 6-4 loss at Progressive Field, completing the series sweep by Cleveland. "It's just pretty frustrating," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We can't seem to stop anything and make the pitches when we need to. We got a few big hits here and there, but it's just not enough. The whole series, it was just not enough. We come up short and just have to move on." Moving on for the Twins meant boarding a late-night flight to St. Petersburg for the start of a four-game series with the Rays on Friday. But despite suffering its fourth straight loss, Minnesota will head to that series still sitting just 2 1/2 games behind Chicago in the division race. That's because the Yankees defeated the White Sox, 5-1, earlier in the night to leave the margin between the two clubs unchanged with 10 games left to play. Still, Minnesota couldn't help but feel that an opportunity was wasted in this game -- and in this series. The Twins had come into Cleveland to face an Indians team that had just lost three out of four to the Royals at Progressive Field. But this was a series where nothing seemed to go right for Minnesota. From starters' struggles coming on nights when the offense was hot, like Tuesday night when the Twins stormed back from a seven-run deficit only to lose in extras, to bullpen matchups that didn't work out, the Twins were left to explain how they might rebound from the tough series. "At this point, you just see what we are made of," Guerrier said. "We lose three here at a time when we need to be winning some games. It's going to be tough going to Tampa. They are fighting for a spot and we've pretty much got our backs against the wall. "If we can pull off a good series there, we've got the White Sox coming to our place and anything can happen -- as long as we keep it somewhat close when they come to town." Early on Wednesday night, the Twins had looked poised to make up ground. They tagged Lee for two runs over the first four innings. Yet starter Scott Baker would give it back in the bottom of the fourth on two solo home runs. And even more frustrating to Gardenhire was that in the fifth, Baker allowed the Indians to take the lead back. The frustration was due largely to the fact that Gardenhire felt he wasn't vocal enough with what he wanted Baker to do. With two outs and runners on second and third, Gardenhire let Baker pitch to left-handed hitter Shin-Soo Choo. The plan, Gardenhire said, was to not give Choo anything to hit considering that first base was still open. But there seemed to be a mixup between the skipper and the pitcher. Instead, Baker threw a pitch down and away that Choo lined into left field for a double to put Cleveland ahead, 4-2. "The approach was to get ahead of a guy, and if you fell behind him, then work around him," Baker said. "Looking back on it, given the circumstances and the outcomes, yeah, you'd do something different -- maybe throw him a breaking ball or a fastball off the plate." "We're just on different wavelengths here," Gardenhire added. "It's my responsibility. I left it in their hands and should have just put him on and take it out of their hands. That's crazy stuff. We are going to throw some balls in the dirt and see if he chases, and the pitcher wants to get ahead of him. That's how nuts it's going right now." Still, the Twins managed to tie it back up after driving in two more runs off Lee in the top of the seventh. Justin Morneau notched his 128th RBI with a groundout to second base, and Delmon Young hit a single up the middle through an infield that was pulled in to score the second run. But the Twins were unable to get that go-ahead run in the inning. And from there, the script from so many other losses for the team played out once again. After left-hander Jose Mijares allowed a runner to get to third base in the seventh thanks to a wild pitch before a throwing error by catcher Joe Mauer, Gardenhire called on Guerrier to get the final out of the inning. Guerrier was set to face Jhonny Peralta, who was 1-for-15 off Guerrier in his career. But on a 2-2 pitch, Peralta flared a ball into left-center field and Young was unable to make the sliding catch as one run scored. The Indians then scored another run when Victor Martinez, who was 1-for-9 off Guerrier in his career, hit a double down the right-field line for the final run. "That's the way it's been going -- the numbers say, 'Do it' and you miss your pitches, see [the balls land] in the outfield grass and the runs are in," Gardenhire said. Now the Twins must try to put the disappointing series behind them and head to Florida. The hope is Minnesota can find a way to keep itself within striking distance for its three-game series with the White Sox at the Metrodome on Sept. 23-25. But the Twins know it's not going to be easy. "We're still in it, still alive and still have to battle every game," Morneau said. "Yesterday, we came back from being down, 8-1, and that shows the character of this team. You know our season is right there, too. It's almost like we're down, 8-1, and we have to show we can come back. But we're still alive and we're still going to fight."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.