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08/21/09 12:46 AM ET
Wheels fall off for Twins in series finale
Swarzak, bullpen hit hard as Rangers rip four home runs
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- For two straight nights, the sixth inning had been magical for the Twins. Despite falling behind to the Rangers on both Tuesday and Wednesday, Minnesota had managed to put together a four-run sixth inning in both contests to boost itself to back-to-back comeback victories. And on Thursday night, it appeared for a brief moment that perhaps the club was in for yet another treat in the sixth. But unfortunately for the Twins, it was the Rangers who would end up putting up a big number in the inning en route to an 11-1 victory. "It looked like we had a shot there in the middle part," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We had that good feeling, like maybe we were going to get them again." Trailing 4-1 at the start of the sixth on Thursday, the Twins had reason to hope for yet another rally when Denard Span and Orlando Cabrera hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. And it looked like perhaps they got the big hit needed when Joe Mauer lined a pitch from Rangers starter Derek Holland, but that was just for a brief moment, as the shot went straight into third baseman Michael Young's glove. Still, Michael Cuddyer followed up with another single off Holland to load the bases with one out and bring the go-ahead run up to the plate. Unlike the previous nights, Rangers manager Ron Washington was not about to let his starter fall victim to another Twins comeback. So instead, he turned to his club's newest phenom -- hard-throwing right-hander Neftali Feliz. "I just thought they were hitting some balls pretty good off Derek," Washington said. "The last thing I wanted was that everything he had done get away from him." Feliz did exactly what the Rangers needed, getting Joe Crede to hit a 97-mph fastball toward Young at third for an inning-ending double play. And the Twins wound up being forced out of the inning without having tallied a single run. "That turned the momentum there," Gardenhire said. "They got back in the dugout and scored some runs on us." Five runs to be exact, as the Rangers took a 9-1 lead, and what had been a contest that the Twins felt was within reach soon turned into yet another blowout loss. Starter Anthony Swarzak put his rotation spot in a perilous condition again -- just a few days after he had lost it for a few hours before Francisco Liriano's tired arm provided an opening for him to get back in. This time, Swarzak gave up six runs over 5 1/3 innings -- five of his runs which came off the four homers (two by Marlon Byrd) that he allowed on the night. It was Swarzak's fourth loss in as many starts and brought his season record to 3-7 with a 6.25 ERA. Afterward, Gardenhire said they'll make a decision over the next few days as to whether Swarzak will remain in the rotation. "If they tell me I'm in the bullpen, I'm in the bullpen. If they tell me I'm starting, I'm starting," Swarzak said. "I'm a rookie. This is my first year and that's how it goes. Hopefully, they hand the ball to me again, and whether it's in the fifth inning coming in for somebody or starting off a game, I just want to pitch, and I've got to do whatever I can to dig myself out of this hole." Two of Swarzak's runs came as part of that rough sixth inning. After allowing a leadoff homer to Nelson Cruz and issuing a one-out walk to Taylor Teagarden, Swarzak was replaced by Bobby Keppel. That's when things really started to unravel. Keppel proceeded to give up three straight RBI doubles before exiting without recording an out. "Pitching, that's the story and it was tonight," Gardenhire said. "We didn't have enough." So as the Twins head to Kansas City for a three-game set with the Royals, they do so having been unable to win a series since July 27-29, when they swept the White Sox at home. Over that span, the Twins have watched their starters scuffle and their lineup try to find ways to overcome early deficits. And while the club proved against the Rangers that it was indeed capable of comebacks, it had to do so without one of the club's biggest threats -- Justin Morneau. More worrisome is that they don't know exactly when they'll get their slugging first baseman back. Morneau headed back to the Twin Cities on Thursday night to see a specialist about the inner-ear infection that's been causing him to have dizzy spells. Still, the Twins took something from splitting the series with the Rangers -- particularly in the fact that they did it without Morneau, who left in the fourth inning of Monday's contest, the first game of the series. "We showed a lot of heart coming back in those two wins," Cuddyer said. "That's big. We did it without arguably our best player with Morny being out and we were still able to come back and win those games. That was big as well. That's a good team over there. They are in the hunt for a reason. But we've got to win a series against Kansas City to stay in this thing." Thursday's loss moved the third-place Twins back to 6 1/2 games behind the division-leading Tigers with only 41 games left in the season. "We're still not that far out for our division," Gardenhire said. "We've got a lot of games left but we need to win series... I always believe in this baseball team. I believe they are going to get after it. Tonight we just got our socks knocked off."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.