Twins score too little, too late vs. Sox

Twins score too little, too late vs. Sox

BOSTON -- As the losses continued to rack up for the Twins over the past week, the reality that No. 82 was likely in the cards started to sink in.

And on Friday night, it finally came.

A 5-2 defeat to the Red Sox at Fenway Park secured that fateful loss, which gave the Twins their first losing season since 2000.

"We were hoping it wasn't coming, but it did," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We were trying. The guys were playing, and they are still playing, and that's all I care about.

"We're going out there and giving everything we have. The number of losses, sure, it hurts. We're not going to be in the playoffs. So really, what does it matter now? What does matter is that we go out and play nine innings every night and try to finish off the season playing hard. And we did that again tonight."

In the middle of a playoff-type atmosphere at Fenway Park, keeping that winning edge for the Twins hasn't been too hard.

The Red Sox were battling once again on Friday to reduce their magic number to zero and clinch the American League East title over the Yankees. And judging by the reactions all night in the stands, the crowd was well aware of the situation.

It made for quite a debut at the historic ballpark for Minnesota rookie Kevin Slowey.

Despite picking up his first Major League loss, Slowey (4-1) stepped up to the occasion, allowing four runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings.

Most of the runs came as a result of bloop hits. Two of them came in the first. Slowey gave up a two-out double to David Ortiz before Mike Lowell drove in Ortiz with an RBI single to right. Boston added a run in the inning on a double by J.D. Drew that left fielder Jason Kubel misplayed.

Slowey would limit the damage from there, and though his outing didn't unfold exactly as the right-hander wanted, it was enough to please his skipper.

"I was really proud of him," Gardenhire said. "He handled himself well on that mound. He gets a loss, but I thought he did a good job against a very tough lineup."

Though Slowey earned praise from his skipper, it was the Red Sox rookie pitcher who seemed to be getting his share of respect from the Twins hitters.

The Twins and Red Sox often joke about how well they know each other due to the numerous times they meet during Spring Training. But never once this spring did the Twins face Boston's rookie sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The club got their first look at the Japanese pitcher on Friday night and he certainly impressed, limiting the Twins to just two runs over eight innings.

Matsuzaka didn't give the Twins many opportunities to score, either, as he allowed just six hits and issued just two walks while picking up his 15th victory of the season. He struck out eight in the contest, which included Michael Cuddyer's strikeout looking in the seventh inning for Matsuzaka's 200th K of the season.

"His name said it all -- there were a lot of Ks in there today," Torii Hunter said. "Every at-bat I saw something different. He scared me and shocked me at the same time. For a guy you've never seen, he was pretty nasty."

Matsuzaka held the Twins scoreless until the seventh inning. Justin Morneau led off the inning with his 31st home run of the season, a solo shot to center field. Garrett Jones drew a one-out walk from Matsuzaka and, following a ground-rule double by Matthew LeCroy, scored from third on a Brian Buscher groundout.

It was during that inning when the playoff environment erupted once again. The crowd was so intent on the Yankees-Orioles game that a huge cheer enveloped the stadium when Baltimore began making a comeback.

It was so loud that Cuddyer, who was at the plate, thought that Morneau's home-run ball had been tossed back onto the field. Home-plate umpire Randy Marsh and Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek thought the same thing, so they allowed Cuddyer to call time.

"We kind of went through that last year," Cuddyer said, referring to the atmosphere at the Metrodome during the final game of the 2006 season, when the Twins clinched the division thanks to Detroit's loss to the Royals. "Every time Kansas City scored, the crowd went nuts."

Even though the Twins were on the wrong side of that atmosphere on Friday, it was a chance for their young players to experience what it feels like to be in a pennant chase.

"Every day I play here, it feels like a playoff," Hunter said. "If you can't get pumped up to play here, something is wrong with you.

"For the guys on this team that haven't been in the playoffs, it's good for them to see what it's about," Cuddyer added.

Now the Twins turn their focus to getting back to that same position next year.

"You don't want to be the first team in a while to have a losing season," Cuddyer said. "But it happened. Now we just look to build in the offseason and try to get back to where we think we should be -- and that's in the postseason."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.