MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins lost four middle relievers from last year’s playoff team to free agency and multimillion dollar contracts with other teams.
The replacements clearly aren’t ready.
Maicer Izturis hit a go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning for the Angels after a five-run eighth against three Twins relievers, and Los Angeles beat Minnesota 6-5 on Friday night.
Erick Aybar’s three-run homer on the first pitch from Dusty Hughes ignited the rally after Twins starter Scott Baker scattered six singles over seven shutout innings. Jim Hoey (0-2) was pitching when Alberto Callaspo’s infield single and Russell Branyan’s sacrifice fly forged a tie for the Angels.
“We say the same thing: ‘You win as a team. You lose as a team.’ I think as an individual you go out there and do the best you can and you try to provide your team a chance to win,” Baker said. “I think for the most part I did that. We just came up short.”
Jordan Walden worked the ninth for his 11th save in 14 tries, reaching 99 mph with his fastball multiple times on the Target Field radar and sending the Twins to their sixth loss in seven games. Michael Cuddyer and Trevor Plouffe hit back-to-back two-out singles off Walden, but that wasn’t enough.
Scott Downs (3-1) got two outs for the win for the Angels. Torii Hunter had three hits, hustled home with the tying run and preserved a tie by ending the eighth inning with a blooper-reel catch of a shallow fly he shared with Peter Bourjos with a runner on second that surely would’ve scored.
Hunter called off Bourjos, but he bobbled the ball and Bourjos stuck his glove out. Together, they made sure it didn’t hit the ground to let the Twins take the lead, and the play went down in the scorebook as a rare 8-9 putout. That came after Bourjos sped to snag a line drive by Denard Span.
Bourjos had leadoff triple in the ninth and scored on Izturis’s single to take the lead.
Jason Kubel drove in three runs and Alexi Casilla had two doubles and a triple for the Twins. Baker has left with a lead six times in 10 starts. The bullpen has blown four of those, all in the eighth inning. Baker struck out six without a walk, his first game without a free pass.
“Every day you learn. It’s just tough learning like this,” Hoey said. He added: “You want to win. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’ve been bred to do as competitors. It’s tough to lose, and it’s tough to lose in the bullpen.”
Bourjos also took away what might have been Jim Thome’s 594th career home run with a leaping catch at the bullpen in left-center in the sixth inning, while Hunter — who used to do that for a living — watched in awe from right field.
Tyler Chatwood surrendered eight hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings, though one of the four runs against him was unearned. Aybar fumbled a grounder to shortstop to start the fifth and trigger a two-run rally by the Twins who took a 4-0 lead on Kubel’s two-run bases-loaded single.
For Minnesota, mental mistakes have persisted, compounding the obvious flaws in the batting order and in the bullpen.
Casilla stumbled as he rounded first on his RBI double, forcing a retreat to the base before a hustle to second. As the second inning ended on a line drive to second base, Valencia slid back into first before realizing that was the third out. Then with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, Kubel took off for third on a sinking liner that Hunter caught in right field for an easy double play to strand Thome in the on-deck circle.
Reliever Alex Burnett was slow to cover on a bobbled groundball by first baseman Justin Morneau that let Bourjos beat one out with his fast feet for a leadoff single in the eighth.
“Jason Kubel came in and told me he made a mistake and screwed it up. I can handle that. That’s standing up and being accountable, and we need more of that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Danny Valencia diving back into first base on a two-out line drive to second base, that’s embarrassing. That stuff shouldn’t happen. We’re in the big leagues.”
NOTES: Baker has 61 strikeouts in 61 2-3 innings. He entered the game with the second-best strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio in the league, but he has only two wins in 10 starts. He’s averaging nearly 15 pitches per inning and needed 106 pitches or more in six of his starts. … Joe Mauer had four at-bats as a DH in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla., going 0 for 2 with two walks against Kevin Millwood. Twins assistant athletic trainer Dave Pruemer said Mauer’s knees felt good.
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