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10/01/09 12:05 AM ET

Pavano falters at inopportune time

Starter's magic vs. Tigers runs out; Twins' backs to wall

DETROIT -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stopped Carl Pavano for a moment after the pitcher handed him the ball and began walking off the mound in the fifth inning.

Gardenhire wanted to make sure that Pavano knew one thing before he headed back to the dugout, following an outing that no one in the Twins' clubhouse imagined they'd see from the veteran.

"I just told him, 'I'd take my chances with you every time in that situation. You've done it for us since you came over here and you pitched well against that team,'" Gardenhire said. "It didn't work out tonight, but I'm pretty happy having that guy on my ballclub."

If there was any pitcher that the Twins wanted on the mound for their critical swing-game against the Tigers on Wednesday night, it was Pavano. The veteran starter had posted a 4-0 record and a 1.69 ERA in five starts against the Tigers this season and had allowed just four earned runs in his previous three starts at Comerica Park.

But with his team's postseason hopes resting largely on his shoulders in its latest must-win game, Pavano couldn't muster the same magic he'd had against the Tigers all season.

Instead, Pavano allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings -- his worst outing with the Twins -- resulting in a 7-2 loss to Detroit that left Minnesota sitting on the brink of elimination.

"I needed to step up and I didn't do the job," Pavano said. "Not only did I let myself down, I let my team down. They needed me today to go out there and put in an effort for a win, and I fell short."

The Twins now trail the Tigers by three games in the American League Central race with four left to play, including one more head-to-head matchup between the two clubs on Thursday. So a victory by the Tigers in the series finale would give Detroit its first division title since 1987.

But even with a win on Thursday to give them a 2-2 series split with Detroit, the Twins would face their steepest climb yet. They'd need to sweep the Royals this weekend at home and have the Tigers lose at least two games against the White Sox this weekend to even force a Game No. 163, or win two of three against Kansas City and have Chicago sweep the Tigers.

"It's not over with," Gardenhire said. "It's not looking really good. But mathematically we still have a chance. If we come and beat them tomorrow, they still have to do some damage over the weekend, and so do we."

Perhaps the most frustrating part for the Twins was that they found themselves in this dire position after they appeared to be getting off to a good start on Wednesday night.

Pavano had a 2-0 lead, thanks to his club tagging Tigers starter Eddie Bonine for two runs in the first inning. A total of five consecutive batters reached with one out in the inning. One run scored on a Jason Kubel RBI single and another on Delmon Young's base hit that came as a result of Curtis Granderson misjudging a catch in center for the second consecutive day. The bases were loaded at the time of Young's hit, but all three runners froze -- thinking it would be a sac fly -- and it turned into a 410-foot RBI single.

"We came out on fire right away," Gardenhire said. "It looked like we were going to do some serious damage there."

With the bases still loaded and one out, Jose Morales worked his way to a 3-2 count and smashed the pitch from Bonine -- but it was right at second baseman Placido Polanco. Getting enough on it to knock the ball down, Polanco was able to turn the momentum-killing double play.

"It was a tough battle," Morales said. "He gave me the pitch that I was looking for. I was trying to put it in the air and get a sac fly. I just hit it right at him."

"If that ball's in the hole, that could've been disastrous for us," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We kept the damage to a couple runs."

Still, Pavano said he believed the two runs should have been enough. Yet Minnesota's lead lasted only into the second inning, when Pavano ran into trouble against the Tigers. He allowed the first four batters to reach, which included a two-run double by Brandon Inge to knot the game at 2. One out later, Ramon Santiago singled to right field to drive in two more runs and put Detroit up, 4-2.

After retiring eight consecutive batters, Pavano sputtered once again in the fifth. After loading the bases with one out, Pavano got Miguel Cabrera to pop out on the first pitch. But the very next pitch quickly turned troublesome as Magglio Ordonez delivered a bases-clearing double to give Detroit a 7-2 lead.

Having allowed just seven earned runs in 37 1/3 innings against the Tigers in his five previous starts this season, Pavano matched that number in just two innings in this start and put his team in a hole that was too steep to climb out of.

"I put them in a position where they were going out there [down] 7-2 and trying to do too much," Pavano said. "That's a lot to ask from a lineup. I put it on my shoulders. I didn't do my job."

The Twins couldn't muster any more offense against the Tigers. Bonine pitched five innings, allowing just the two runs on seven hits, while the Tigers' bullpen held them scoreless for the final four frames. And the Tigers were able to do something they hadn't all year -- defeat Pavano.

"I think it gives us a lot of confidence," Inge said. "It's big. It's huge. To be honest with you, he beat us four times. There aren't many people who have beaten a team four times all year."

Now, the Twins must turn around the day after losing with their most dominant pitcher against the Tigers and try to find a way to stave off elimination.

"We still have a chance and we're going to come out tomorrow and play," Kubel said. "Hopefully things go our way."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.