Instead, the Twins' normally stoic bullpen gave up six runs in the bottom of the ninth, and that sure victory turned into a 13-inning, 11-10 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday night.
"A disappointing night for us and a disappointing loss after taking a big lead like that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't think we've seen six runs scored against our bullpen in a long, long time. At least not in the ninth inning."
The Twins and White Sox entered the ninth inning tied at 4. In what can only be described as a wild ninth unlike anything anyone had seen before, the two teams combined to send 19 hitters to the plate with each club scoring a total of six runs.
It's the first time in history that two Major League teams have entered the ninth inning with the game tied, scored six-or-more runs in the inning and were tied again at the completion of the inning.
And history was far from the minds of the two clubs when the inning started with what seemed like a typical late-inning rally by the Twins.
Nick Punto led off the inning with a single to right. A sac bunt by Jason Tyner moved Punto to second base before Jason Bartlett singled to advance the winning run to third. Torii Hunter then grounded into a fielder's choice, but a throwing error by third baseman Alex Cintron allowed the go-ahead run to score, making it 5-4, and Hunter was safe at first.
From there, things got a little out of hand as the Twins went on a scoring binge. RBI singles by Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer added two more runs before Rondell White delivered just his third home run of the season, a three-run shot to left-center field, to make it a 10-4 ballgame.
But just when it seemed the Twins had a handle on the victory, Minnesota right-hander Julio DePaula came in to pitch and could not find a way to issue a single out.
Three straight singles off DePaula to start the inning loaded the bases before Josh Fields delivered a two-run double to center field, making it a 10-6 game.
"He started off throwing too many breaking balls and [pitching coach Rick Anderson] went and talked to him," Gardenhire said of DePaula. "He told him he had to use all of his pitches. But you saw how quick it all happened."
With two runners on base and Jim Thome coming to the plate, the Twins wanted to turn to closer Joe Nathan. But Nathan had gotten up in the top half of the inning when the team looked like it might take a lead, and when the team put on its offensive onslaught he had sat back down.
The team got Nathan up again when Fields was up to bat. But with Fields needing only two pitches to deliver the double, Nathan didn't have much time to get warmed up.
So when the call came to put Nathan in, the closer was not ready.
"I might have had two, maybe three pitches at that point," Nathan said. "I said, 'Just give me a few more pitches and I'll be ready.'"
Having already used their mound meeting earlier in the inning, the Twins were unable to stall for the extra few minutes. Instead, the Twins would have to rely on DePaula to face Thome, and the rookie pitcher made what proved to be a critical mistake.
DePaula left another ball up in the zone on an 0-1 pitch and Thome belted it 430 feet over the center-field wall for his 496th career homer. The three-run shot pulled Chicago to within one run, 10-9.
"It was a situation where Julio had to go after him, and unfortunately, he's facing a pretty good hitter," Nathan said.
Nathan then would be ready to come in after Thome's at-bat, but the club's All-Star closer found his own trouble right away.
He issued a walk to the first batter he faced, Paul Konerko. Things then unraveled from there, as Scott Podsednik pinch-ran for Konerko and stole second. Only then did Nathan record the very first out of the inning, as A.J. Pierzynski struck out swinging.
But with one out and Darin Erstad batting, a wild pitch by Nathan allowed the tying run to move to third base. Erstad then hit a ground-rule double to knot the game at 10. It was Nathan's second straight blown save and the first time that he had suffered back-to-back blown saves since Aug. 19 and 24 in 2004.
Nathan retired the final two batters he faced and the teams would be embroiled in a see-saw battle for the next four innings.
That is until the bottom of the 13th, when Juan Rincon came in for his second inning of work. Another leadoff walk, this one to Luis Terrero, was followed by Fields' sac bunt and Rincon intentionally walking Thome.
It seemed like the Twins were going to find a way out of the mess when Podsednik grounded into a fielder's choice to the second baseman Punto. The throw by Punto to Bartlett, who was standing near second, was a little off line and pulled Bartlett slightly off the bag. But it still appeared that he had touched the bag with his foot.
That's not what second-base umpire Joe West saw, as he ruled Thome safe at second to load the bases with only one out. Pierzynski then came to the plate and delivered the walk-off single into right field that completed the victory.
"To have a bad call decide this game, it's a shame that that's the way this game had to end," Nathan said. "I guess [West] thought he saw something, and it wasn't the case. But it happens, it's baseball."
Considering all that had led up to the final inning, the Twins were quite disappointed to have the nearly 4 1/2-hour contest end in that manner.
But at the end of the day, it all came back to the troubles the club found in the ninth. And its opponent seemed as surprised as anyone that it turned out the way it did.
"That was pretty amazing, especially against their bullpen, to score six," Pierzynski said. "Especially Nathan, once he got in the game. It was a good win and a great game, and wow, I'm glad it's over."