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Updated: July 3rd, 2010 6:24pm
Bullpen fails again, wasting Thome's big day in 8-6 loss to Rays

Bullpen fails again, wasting Thome's big day in 8-6 loss to Rays

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- There were points in Saturday's 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at which it felt like the Minnesota Twins were winning in a runaway.

Jim Thome had drawn two curtain calls with a pair of milestone homers. Justin Morneau had blasted another. Francisco Liriano had struck out 10, and the crowd of 40,852 opened the eighth inning with the time-honored blowout tradition of starting the wave.

But then Michael Cuddyer misplayed Jason Bartlett's liner into a double. Sean Rodriguez beat out an infield single to chase Alex Burnett. Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier gave up three hits and three RBIs on consecutive pitches, and Guerrier loaded the bases to set up pinch hitter Matt Joyce's grand slam that carried out to center field.

Just like that, a 4-1 lead turned into a four-run deficit, and an afternoon that should have been about Thome, Liriano and the encouraging return of shortstop J.J. Hardy turned into a total collapse -- and another major letdown for the Twins' bullpen.

"No matter who I went to, it seemed like (it was) the wrong move today, and I'll take that one myself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Frankie gave us everything he had, and whoever we put out there -- it starts with a ball off of Cuddy's glove and then the jam shot, and then the inning just escalated and we couldn't put a stop to it no matter who we put out there. So, it goes on me. I'll take every bit of it."

Over the first three games of this four-game series, the Twins' bullpen has made 15 appearances for a total of 7 2/3 innings. In that span, they've allowed nine runs on 14 hits for a 10.57 ERA, and Guerrier has taken two losses -- the first after Jon Rauch blew a save on Thursday.

Gardenhire said coaches hoped Burnett could get through the eighth inning to give Guerrier a second straight day off, but there was little choice once Burnett and Mijares failed to record out.

"We're going to need all of us to come back tomorrow and the next day," Guerrier said. "We've got to kind of take it and feel sorry for ourselves for a little bit and come back (Sunday) and be ready to go."

Thome did his best to rally the Twins (44-37) in the bottom of the ninth, narrowly missing a third home run on a drive to right-center field that hit about a foot from the top of the wall. Cuddyer, who had led off with a double, came around to score.

But Rafael Soriano came on and closed out his 20th save in 21 chances for the Rays (47-33), allowing only a two-out RBI single to Denard Span before getting Orlando Hudson to ground out weakly to first base to end it.

Cuddyer had started at third base but moved to right field in the eighth in a defensive switch to get Nick Punto into the game. He hadn't been there long before Bartlett ripped Burnett's 0-1 fastball. Cuddyer got a bad break and ended up having the ball hit off the heel of his glove near the warning track.

From there, things only got worse.

Mijares replaced Burnett after Rodriguez's scratch hit and gave up an RBI double to Carl Crawford. Guerrier came on and had his first two pitches ripped by Evan Longoria (for an RBI single on a hanging slider) and Willy Aybar (for a double on a fastball up), bringing jeers from the crowd.

"Second and third no outs with Longoria, I just wanted to make a good pitch," Guerrier said. "I know they're aggressive. I know they're going to swing. He hits it, gets a base hit. ... The next guy (Aybar), I left a ball up and he crushed it."

Guerrier recovered to get pinch hitter John Jaso on a nice pickup by Morneau, and after B.J. Upton walked to load the bases, Ben Zobrist fouled out to Morneau. But then Guerrier fell behind 2-0 to Joyce, who was hitting .158 and hadn't homered all season but got another fastball up and drove it just beyond the center-field fence.

Asked if he thought the ball would clear the wall, Gardenhire said, "No, I thought it was a pop fly to center. We've seen that too many times here."

The ball was flying Saturday, though. With a game-time temperature of 90 degrees, the teams combined for four homers -- three by the Twins -- and a bunch of near misses.

One of those came off the bat of Hardy, who finished 2-for-4 with a single and a double that almost cleared the fence in left-center -- not far from where Thome's second home run had extended the Twins' lead to three earlier in the fourth inning.

Thome also homered in the second inning and Morneau homered in the third, the latter a two-run blast. And it appeared that would be plenty to back Liriano, who allowed only four hits and one walk over seven innings before leaving with a 4-1 lead.

Instead, Nick Blackburn (7-5, 6.02 earned-run average) will take the mound on Sunday against fellow right-hander James Shields (6-8, 4.76) needing a win just to split the series with the Rays (47-33).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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