The close final score was misleading. Justin Morneau belted a three-run pinch-hit home run to right field off David Riske with two outs in the ninth when the game was already out of reach.
Before that, the Twins had struggled for eight innings against Indians starter Scott Elarton (9-7), who retired his final 10 batters in a row. Bob Wickman notched his 39th save by getting the game's final out.
"We're just not getting it done," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have to win games we're not winning."
Gardenhire was forced to test one of the rookies during the seventh inning. As the Twins trailed, 4-2, reliever J.C. Romero walked leadoff batter Victor Martinez, gave up Ron Belliard's double to center field and hit Ben Broussard with a 1-0 pitch.
Bowyer, who had been warming in the bullpen, suddenly found himself making his Major League debut with the bases loaded as Gardenhire decided he couldn't keep going to the well to use Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon.
"If we keep waiting for situations, blowouts, we don't get into many of those," Gardenhire said.
"When I came out to the mound, I was almost lightheaded," said Bowyer, who was called up Tuesday after notching 23 saves this season at Triple-A Rochester. "Everything was racing. I just wanted to throw strikes. I was real nervous, though."
Bowyer pumped 94-96 mph fastballs and got Aaron Boone to hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored a run. His wild pitch to Casey Blake forced the infield to play in. Blake grounded an RBI single through the left side that scored another run. It was the right-hander's second and final batter. Terry Mulholland entered and gave up Grady Sizemore's RBI single for the inning's third run.
"He did a good job," Gardenhire said of Bowyer. "That's not the scenario I envisioned. But I also didn't know J.C. was going to walk a guy, give up a double and hit the next guy. I didn't anticipate that very well, my bad."
Making his second big league appearance, Liriano struck out the side in the eighth. Behind the plate that inning was Heintz, who also spent the entire season at Rochester and earned a callup for batting .304 this year.
Liriano, the organization's top left-handed prospect, could see a larger role if and when the Twins are eliminated from the postseason. He already has five strikeouts in two innings of work.
"He'll get a start for sure, if we get there," Gardenhire said.
Another top prospect already in the rotation full time, and likely in it next season, Baker pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on eight hits.
The Twins gave Baker a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Shannon Stewart's RBI double and a 2-1 advantage in the fifth from Nick Punto's sacrifice fly. But both leads were lost in the following half-inning because of solo home runs. Coco Crisp hit a 2-1 fastball to right field in the third, and Jhonny Peralta hit a 1-2 slider in the fifth.
"It's a matter of being able to shut them down when I needed to," said Baker, who is 1-2 with a 2.93 ERA in six big league games with five starts. "I let them answer both times after we scored. I think that was the biggest difference from an average outing to a good outing."
Baker, who was recalled for the third time on Aug. 29, worked into the sixth but gave up back-to-back one-out walks to Broussard and Boone, and Casey Blake hit a bloop single to center field.
"He started getting the ball up, couldn't locate his fastball. He kind of ran out of steam," Gardenhire said.
With Romero in, two runs scored from third baseman Juan Castro's throwing error after a diving stop of Crisp's ground ball.
Gardenhire still plans to go with his 'A' lineup in Sunday's finale of the season. In an unfamiliar position after winning division titles his first three seasons, he also expected full efforts the rest of the way.
"Looking at kids is a process too, but winning games is the
process, the No. 1 process in this and we'll never stop trying to do that," Gardenhire said.