Bullpen loses lead, Twins lose to Tigers

Bullpen loses lead, Twins lose to Tigers

DETROIT -- The Twins have long relied on their bullpen to be one of the team's primary strengths.

But for the second time in a week, it was the 'pen that cost the Twins a victory.

Matt Guerrier and Pat Neshek combined to give up a total of six runs in the eighth inning on Monday night, leading to an 11-9 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.

"A pretty wild night," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When you go with Matty Guerrier and Neshek, that's our best two setup guys. They normally don't give up too much. But I think you see a little bit of what the Tigers can do when you don't make pitches.

"We didn't make too many good pitches from about the bottom of the sixth on. We got balls up, and lot of pitches out and over. They were just killing it. And we couldn't stop them."

The troubles in the eighth came with Minnesota leading, 9-5, at the start of the inning. But the Twins' collapse had begun much earlier, as the team watched the first of its two big leads in the game disappear.

Thanks to three errors by Detroit and an ability to get to Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman early, the Twins built a five-run advantage heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.

With Twins starter Nick Blackburn cruising through his first five innings, scattering just four hits during that time, it appeared as though Minnesota was in control of the game.

But that's when Blackburn found trouble. After two quick ground-ball outs, he watched as the aggressive Tigers lineup emerged from its slumber. Gary Sheffield hit a chopper up the third-base line that just stayed fair, and Magglio Ordonez followed with a dribbler up the middle to put runners on first and second.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson made a visit to the mound, but it didn't help. Blackburn gave up first-pitch hits to the next two hitters, leading to three runs for Detroit. Blackburn was replaced by Guerrier, who gave up yet another first-pitch single and a run, but Edgar Renteria was thrown out on the basepaths on the play to end the inning.

"Obviously, those first five innings were good," Blackburn said. "I just ran into some problems in that sixth and couldn't get out of them. Like I said, with a lineup like that, any mistakes are going to be magnified, and obviously they've been in a slump lately, and any time they could wake up."

Still, there wasn't much cause for immediate concern. Although the Twins have had trouble building on leads so far this season, they managed to match Detroit's four-run effort in the top of the seventh.

After Bonderman put runners on first and third before leaving the game, Justin Morneau hit a two-run single to left field with one out, and Delmon Young and Jason Kubel each added RBI singles to make it a 9-4 Twins lead.

But things went downhill from there.

Despite a long offensive inning for the Twins in the seventh, Guerrier came out once again in the bottom half of the inning. Luck certainly didn't appear to be on his side, as he gave up a solo home run to catcher Ivan Rodriguez to start the frame. But it wasn't a typical homer.

Right fielder Denard Span jumped to catch the ball at the wall and looked to have it in his glove. Instead it popped out, and it was that motion that seemed to push the ball over the fence.

After the inning, Guerrier tried to make Span feel better about the unlucky break.

"He almost made an unbelievable catch," Guerrier said. "That's the crazy part about it. It was a great attempt. It's just a goofy kind of thing. You can laugh when you're up by five runs. But then you turn around and throw it away."

The Tigers' offense has been kind of a sleeping giant. With the team scuffling to a 2-10 start heading into Monday's game, there were a lot of questions as to just when the potent Detroit lineup would start clicking.

It did in the eighth.

Guerrier came out for his third straight inning of work, and things got away from him in a hurry. Guerrier gave up back-to-back doubles to Sheffield and Ordonez to give the Tigers a run. It then appeared as though Guerrier would get his first out of the inning when he got Miguel Cabrera to hit a grounder to shortstop Adam Everett. But Everett made a throw into the dirt that Morneau couldn't retrieve, and Cabrera was ruled safe.

The Twins stuck with Guerrier, who gave up yet another RBI single to allow the Tigers to pull within two.

"We were trying to get Neshek up," Gardenhire said. "It probably took him a hitter longer than it normally does because of the cold. But still, Matty couldn't get a ball down, which he has been very good at. And we couldn't get anything down after that, and they just kept hitting it."

The Twins' primary eighth-inning setup man, Neshek found lots of trouble exactly a week after he'd blown a lead against the White Sox. In that game, which Blackburn also started, Neshek gave up a grand slam to Joe Crede that led to a Twins loss.

This time Neshek was hit, and hit hard.

After getting his first batter to hit into a fielder's choice, Neshek allowed two triples, a sacrifice fly and an RBI single that gave Detroit its 11-9 win.

"Neshek normally makes good pitches, and some guys he gets out pretty good," Gardenhire said. "He left them out and over, and they were whacking him, too."

Neshek left the clubhouse without talking to reporters.

For Guerrier it was a difficult loss, considering that it was the second time the team watched a strong offensive performance go for naught because the bullpen's struggles.

"We can't be losing those games," Guerrier said. "I just wasn't good tonight, and that's terrible. Blackburn being in this position ... I've been in the position where you don't get a win for a long time, and it's tough to see it happen twice for him."

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