Jason Bartlett made a handful of flawed plays that could have saved the Indians from scoring three runs. Ultimately, it did not matter because Indians ace C.C. Sabathia handcuffed the Twins at the plate, only allowing six hits over his eight innings of work in Cleveland's 5-0 victory.
Bartlett made his Major League-leading 24th error in the first inning. With runners on first and second, Travis Hafner hit a sharp comebacker to starter Johan Santana, who turned and fired it to Bartlett to begin what would have been a double play. Bartlett couldn't get a handle on the ball, leaving the bases loaded with no outs. The Indians scored the first run off Victor Martinez's sacrifice fly two pitches later.
"Routine, fundamental, baseball 101," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Bartlett's standing right there, he just missed the ball."
In the next inning, Torii Hunter made an impressive play to cut off a double by Ben Francisco that could have gone all the way to the wall. Hunter grabbed the ball and threw it to Bartlett, the cutoff man, who bobbled it and couldn't make the relay to home, allowing Casey Blake to score.
"Things like that, you can't do with that baseball team out there, they take advantage of every mistake you make," Gardenhire said. "[Santana] was battling through it. He didn't have his greatest stuff, but he made some pitches when he had to. The first two runs, at least, shouldn't have even been runs at all. When you start giving runs to Sabathia over there, you get beat and that's what happened today. We gave up runs early by not making plays and not executing, missing some big plays and that's why you lose baseball games."
Bartlett intercepted a throw from Michael Cuddyer in the third that would possibly have made for a close play at third with Martinez. Martinez then was driven in by the following batter.
"We haven't been playing as crisp baseball as we would like," Cuddyer said. "We haven't been doing the little things right, making the little plays, being aggressive here and there and just doing things the right way. At certain points in the season I think we've gotten away from that a little bit."
Santana said that while his focus is to prepare himself to do everything possible to win, he was hoping his teammates would prepare themselves just as well.
"We're not giving everything we have," Santana said. "We are supposed to be one of the best teams on fundamentals and we're not making those things. If we don't do that, we're not going to win."
Hunter, admittedly upset at the loss, asserted that the knowledge of the fundamentals has to come from below the Major League level.
"That's something the organization has to do," Hunter said. "I work here. I don't know what's going on in the Minor Leagues, but the organization has to work on that, not me. I've got nothing to do with that.
"It's frustrating -- especially when you have a guy like [Sabathia] on the mound and everything counts. You try your best not to make a mistake and once you make a mistake, they take advantage of it and [Sabathia] has the upper hand."
The first three runs scored also came off walks by Santana, who gave up four total runs on the outing. The loss marks his fifth of the season to the Indians, making him the first Twins pitcher to lose five games in one season to one team since Joe Decker dropped five to Oakland in 1974.
"I've always said it's not just about one guy, one pitcher or one player," Santana said. "It takes a whole team to win a game and it wasn't the case today. That's the reason why we lost the game. I don't put that pressure on myself knowing that I have to come into a game perfect, that's not the way it is. I'm always trying to do the best I can, trying to do my part, trying to help my team and hoping that my teammates will do the job."
Santana, who gave up his Major-League-leading 30th home run to Ryan Garko in the fifth inning, has benefited from only eight runs of support in his six starts against the Indians this season.
The loss put the Twins a season-high 10 1/2 games behind the Indians in the AL Central race.
"It's not too good when you see a game like today, when you know you still have a chance to come back to catch those guys, even though they're playing good baseball," Santana said. "To be in this situation is not too comfortable. We are the champions still from last year, we're not playing like it. That's the bottom line. We've got to step it up, otherwise we'll no longer have a chance."
This series, the last of the season against the Indians, was seen as a last ditch effort for the Twins to make the playoffs. Several people, including Gardenhire, said that they would have to sweep the series to have a chance. With that already an impossibility, the postgame attitudes in the clubhouse were both somber and frustrated.
"I'm upset. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm upset," Hunter said. "We're [10 1/2] games out. We have to go out there and try to get lucky and win every game. Hopefully those guys will go in a slump, but I doubt it. They have a good team over there. Really good pitching to keep them in the game and we couldn't get any runs for [Santana] today. That's been our thing the whole season with [Santana]. We can't get him any runs. I hate it."
Hunter went on to praise the hunger and hustle that the Indians displayed throughout the season. When asked if the organization had set up the Twins to play the same way, Hunter sighed and replied, " I can't answer that," before ending the interview.
Leslie Parker is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.