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Updated: August 12th, 2011 8:53pm
Twins Daily: Nishioka plays both hero and goat in 3-2 loss to Tribe

Twins Daily: Nishioka plays both hero and goat in 3-2 loss to Tribe

by Phil Mackey
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Due in part to Tsuyoshi Nishioka misplaying three groundballs in the sixth inning, the Minnesota Twins lost a close game in Cleveland on Friday night, 3-2, wasting a solid start by Carl Pavano.

The skinny

Nishioka starred as both the hero and the goat in Cleveland on Friday night, but ultimately his defensive gaffes were too much for the Twins, and Pavano, to overcome.

Carlos Santana provided the big blow off left-hander Glen Perkins, tying the game 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning with a run-scoring double, and two hitters later, Matt Laporta blooped one in front of Ben Revere to drive in the go-ahead run.

But perhaps the most important stretch of the game came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Nishioka misplayed three groundballs -- a series of gaffes that bloated Pavano's pitch count and allowed the Indians to tie the game 1-1 at the time.

To Nishioka's credit, the shortstop opened the scoring with a two-out RBI single in the top of the third inning, and he gave the Twins a 2-1 lead with a two-out RBI single in the top of the eighth.

Pavano also grinded his way through a scoreless seventh inning that saw three groundballs trickle through for hits.

The right-hander was eventually pulled for Perkins in the eighth after allowing a one-out single to Travis Hafner on his 105th pitch.

Pavano wound up being charged with two runs (one earned) on 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking nobody.

Indians starter Justin Masterson dominated the Twins offense for 7 2/3 innings, allowing only two earned runs on five hits while striking out four and walking nobody.

Turning point

Locked in a duel with Masterson, Pavano took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning and did exactly what he's paid to do -- induce groundballs.

Of course, once the ball leaves the bat, Pavano isn't responsible for the outcome.

After Ezequiel Carrera reached on a bunt single to lead off the inning, Shin-Soo Choo laced a hard hopper right at shortstop Nishioka, who saw the ball glance off his glove into shallow center field, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

Nishioka had a chance to redeem himself when the next batter, Jason Kipnis, slapped a hard grounder to short, but instead he had the ball bounce off his chest and was forced to fire to third base to force the lead runner, rather than turning a 6-4-3 double play.

Two batters later, with runners on the corners and two outs, the heavy-footed Hafner hit a weak chopper over the outstretched glove of Pavano, but Nishioka bobbled as he fielded. Hafner reached safely, allowing the tying run to score.

Nishioka redeemed himself by driving in the go-ahead run later, but Pavano was dealing and likely on pace for a complete game had he not been slowed in the seventh.

Numbers game

0: Hits in four at-bats for Justin Morneau, who played his first game since coming off the disabled list.

Strikes thrown by Pavano in 105 pitches.

11: Groundball outs induced by Pavano.

12: Groundball outs induced by Masterson.

14: Pitches thrown by Masterson to Danny Valencia in one fifth-inning at-bat, ultimately resulting a swinging strikeout.

3: Bobbled groundballs by Nishioka in the sixth inning -- two of which should have led to 6-4-3 double plays, and the last of which likely would have ended the inning without any runs being scored.

3: Groundballs hit by the Indians in the seventh inning that were not turned into outs. With the game tied 1-1, new second baseman Matt Tolbert -- inserted after Alexi Casilla re-aggravated his hamstring in the top of the inning -- made an unsuccessful backhand attempt at a Kosuke Fukudome groundball. Pavano came back to strike out Laporta swinging, then induced a groundball off the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall, only to see it sneak just past the diving glove of Tolbert into right field. Pavano induced yet another groundball by the next hitter, Carrera, which Tolbert corralled with a diving stop, but he bobbled the flip to second, loading the bases with one out.

Visibly annoyed, Pavano struck out Choo swinging for the second out, then induced another groundball by Kipnis to first baseman Morneau. Morneau fielded and looked toward second base, but shortstop Nishioka forgot to cover the base. Morneau instead fired to Pavano, who sprinted over to cover first base. As he walked off the field, Pavano slammed the ball in disgust, then took out more frustration on a cooler in the dugout.

Health report

• 2B Alexi Casilla left the game in the top of the seventh after re-aggravating the same right hamstring that landed him on the 15-day disabled list.

• OF Michael Cuddyer was scratched from the lineup after tweaking his neck during early batting practice Friday. His status is day-to-day.

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow discomfort) will not throw until the Twins return home from a six-game road trip.

On deck

The series continues Saturday (6:05 p.m., 1500 ESPN) when left-hander Brian Duensing (8-10, 4.56) battles right-hander Josh Tomlin (11-5, 4.08).

Duensing has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) over his last two starts, and he hasn't pitched out of the seventh inning since July 7. The left-hander has also surrendered eight home runs over his last six starts, but in his only outing against the Indians he gave up only one run on five hits in seven frames.

Tomlin pitched well against Texas in his last outing (seven innings, two earned runs), but he has cooled off considerably after perhaps being Cleveland's best starting pitcher over the first two months of the year. Since May 27, Tomlin owns a 5.22 ERA with 12 home runs allowed in 88 innings.

Coming up

• Sunday: @ Indians, 12:05 p.m. RHP Kevin Slowey (0-0, 4.91) vs. LHP David Huff (1-1, 0.51)
• Monday: @ Tigers, 6:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (7-9, 5.00) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (11-7, 4.93)
• Tuesday: @ Tigers, 6:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (7-9, 4.36) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (17-5, 2.35)

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd