Updated: July 9th, 2011 5:53pm
Twins Daily: Bullpen unable to hold late lead in walk-off loss to Sox

Twins Daily: Bullpen unable to hold late lead in walk-off loss to Sox

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- A dose of old-school small ball led to three unearned runs off Mark Buehrle, but the Minnesota Twins' bullpen was unable to hold onto a one-run lead, as Alexi Ramirez's walk-off single off Alex Burnett gave the Chicago White Sox a 4-3 win.

The skinny

The Twins managed to stay out in front most of the day with the heavy use of small ball, but it wasn't enough to prevent the White Sox from storming back late.

And due to already using Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan in the eighth inning, manager Ron Gardenhire was forced to call on left-hander Jose Mijares to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning of a 3-3 game.

Even though Mijares got to face three lefties, the inning didn't turn out well.

Mijares allowed a lead-off double to A.J. Pierzynski, then walked Juan Pierre three batters later, prompting Gardenhire to go to his bullpen again, bringing in righty Alex Burnett to face Alexei Ramirez.

Ramirez singled up the middle to plate Pierzynski, ending the game.

"That's his job is to come in and get them out," Gardenhire said about Mijares. "With A.J., what are you going to do with that one? He throws his bat out there and flips it out there. We've seen him do that a thousand times. It looked like a pretty decent pitch down, and he flipped it out there. Pierre, it was a quality at-bat. You can't give in there ... He didn't, he just missed that last pitch. But it was a really good at-bat by Pierre."

The loss ends a streak of nine consecutive wins by the Twins over the White Sox.

For the Twins offensively, the papercut barrage against Buehrle started in the second inning, when Luke Hughes reached safely on an error by third baseman Brent Morel. Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed by dropping down a perfect bunt in no-man's land between first baseman Paul Konerko and second baseman Gordon Beckham, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

After Jason Repko sacrificed both runners over, Ben Revere drove home Hughes with a groundout to first base. Alexi Casilla then bounced single over Morel's head to drive home Nishioka, giving the Twins a 2-1 lead.

The White Sox would later tie the game 2-2 on a Konerko sacrifice fly in the sixth, but the eighth inning saw more Twins small ball -- with Repko starting the frame by beating out an infield single with a head-first slide. He moved to second base on Revere's sacrifice bunt, to third on a passed ball, and home courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Casilla.

Brian Duensing was able to withstand a first-inning solo home run by Alexei Ramirez to pitch seven innings, allowing only two earned runs on five hits and a walk while striking out two.

Turning point

In to protect a 3-2 lead, left-hander Glen Perkins plunked Pierre to start the bottom of the eighth inning, which set the table for the White Sox to tie things up.

Ramirez bunted Pierre over to second base, and Konerko was intentionally walked, putting runners on first and second with one out for Dunn, who hit a lazy fly ball to Michael Cuddyer in right field. Cuddyer made the catch, then turned and fired to third base in an attempt to throw out a tagging Pierre, but Pierre just snuck under the tag of Danny Valencia.

"Danny wasn't aggressive enough on his tag," Gardenhire said. "He's got to bury that tag in there. He kind of did a sweep tag with Pierre coming in there. I thought we should have had that out. I talked to Danny. He's go to be really aggressive there and try to bury that tag. That could have been a huge play, but it didn't work out for us."

Nathan was summoned to pitch to Carlos Quentin, who lined a 1-2 pitch into left field to plate Pierre, tying the game 3-3.

"We tried to ride a fastball up a little bit, and I think (it's) a game of inches. I think if it's maybe two inches higher it's a good pitch. It was still I think a decent pitch, he just fought it off -- a strong enough guy to take it off the hands and serve it into the outfield. So hats off to him on that."

With Perkins and Nathan handling the eighth inning, and with the next-best lefty Mijares taking on several left-handers, Gardenhire felt like he put the right guys in the right spots.

"We had it set up pretty good," Gardenhire said. "They just got some hits when they had to. Hitting the guy, then leading off that inning (with) a guy with all that speed is pretty tough. But we made some big pitches to get out of a couple of those jams. We just didn't make enough."

Numbers game

13: Consecutive starts Buehrle has allowed three earned runs or fewer.

17: Walks issued by Mijares in only 19 2/3 innings this season.

644: Days since the last time Nathan pitched in back-to-back major league games -- the last time coming on October 3, 2009 against the Kansas City Royals.

2: Impressive catches by Revere, who snagged a warning-track fly ball up against the fence off the bat of Konerko in the sixth inning, followed by his diving grab of Quentin's liner in the seventh.

2-for-63: Adam Dunn against lefties after an 0-for-4 performance Saturday.

Overheard

"Throwing against Buehrle helped. He works incredibly fast. It felt like as soon as I sat down in the dugout I had to go right back out ... I don't know how he does that. I have to take a little time. I have to think a little bit."
-- Duensing

Health report

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow strain) will visit with doctors on Tuesday in hopes that he'll be cleared to start throwing. If that's the case, Baker would make his next start on July 18 against Cleveland.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) will be put through an impact test after the All-Star break, which will determine if and when he is able to begin a rehab assignment.

• DH Jim Thome has been playing through a sprained left big toe.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to throw 70-75 pitches in a start for Rochester on Sunday, then he will likely make one more rehab start before the Twins must make a roster decision. Barring a trade or a starting rotation slot opening up, it's likely Slowey will be optioned to Triple-A.

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained foot) will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break. He has been doing pool work and other light workouts over the past few days.

On deck

The first half of the season concludes on Sunday (1:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN) when right-hander Anthony Swarzak (1-2, 3.71) battles right-hander Jake Peavy (4-2, 3.83)

Starting in place of Baker, Swarzak should be able to throw 90-100 pitches, per Gardenhire, after throwing 31 pitches in relief on Wednesday against the Rays. Swarzak owns a 3.71 ERA with 14 strikeouts to nine walks in 34 innings this season. In three starts, the right-hander owns a 3.26 ERA with six strikeouts and five walks in 19 1/3 innings.

Peavy has been all over the map so far this season since returning from a bout with shoulder tendonitis on May 11. He started the season strong, but has allowed 18 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings over his last four starts -- not including a four-inning relief appearance on June 25 when he threw four scoreless innings, striking out seven and walking nobody. Peavy also spent two weeks on the disabled list with a strained groin in early June.

Coming up

• Monday: All-Star break
• Tuesday: All-Star break
• Wednesday: All-Star break

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