Early lead vanishes as Twins fall in 10

Twins lose in 10 innings

ARLINGTON -- The Twins have been looking for ways to wake up their stagnant offense.

And for a few innings on Friday night against the Rangers, it appeared like they had.

Minnesota staked out an early five-run lead heading into the bottom of the third inning. But one poorly pitched inning by their starter resulted in a tie game, and the Twins then sat and watched as their quality at-bats disappeared, leading to a 6-5 loss in 10 innings to the Rangers.

"We didn't play good enough to win the game tonight," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We scored some runs early. But we chased too many pitches late in the game -- high fastball, high fastball and then popup, popup.

"We had a hitting meeting today, talking about getting good pitches and situational hitting and we didn't do very well at that."

Early on in the contest it looked like that meeting might have had an impact. At least for one hitter, Justin Morneau, it did.

Morneau came into the contest having hit .349 against the Rangers over the past two seasons. And he continued that hot hitting, going 3-for-4 on the night with five RBIs and the third grand slam of his career.

The Twins first baseman got the offense started with an RBI single to left in the first inning. It allowed Carlos Gomez to score from second base after he reached on a bunt down the first-base line and stole second for his 10th steal of the year.

Morneau then provided a huge boost when he blasted a first-pitch grand slam home run off Rangers starter Kevin Millwood in the third inning to put the Twins up by five runs. The shot carried 377 feet, just over the right-field wall.

"He threw me pretty much the same pitch in my first at-bat -- cutter, slider, whatever, inside," Morneau said. "He threw me the same pitch, but I was not trying to do too much. I was trying to use the big part of the field, get at least one run. Get a sac fly, and best-case scenario, it carries into the gap for an extra-base hit. ... It went over just enough."

Unfortunately that lead wouldn't last very long at all.

After cruising fairly easily through his first two innings, Twins starter Nick Blackburn found his share of trouble in the bottom half of the third. The right-hander started getting pitches up in the zone and allowed the first seven batters he faced in the inning to reach base. Blackburn gave up five runs on seven hits during that stretch, which included a two-run single to left by Josh Hamilton and an RBI double to right by Hank Blalock.

"It snowballed pretty quick," Blackburn said. "I knew what was going on; I was leaving pitches up around their knees. Any time in that situation you have to throw the ball down and slow yourself down and start getting the ball below the knees. They were attacking the first or second pitch of each at-bat. But I shouldn't have let that happen."

Blackburn wasn't making the pitches, but he wasn't helped by his defense, at least in the first part of the scoring binge. Gardenhire lamented after the loss about his outfielders making poor throwing decisions, choosing to try to go home instead of hitting the cutoff man.

That included at least two mistakes by left fielder Delmon Young. On a single to left by Michael Young, the left fielder overran the ball and recorded an error on the play. Then on Hamilton's single, Young tried to throw home and instead allowed Hamilton to advance to second on the throw.

"You've got to keep the double play in order and throw the ball to the right base," Gardenhire said. "We keep trying to throw the ball home and throw runners out. That's not the way we play."

But with no outs in the inning, Blackburn was aided by a mix of poor baserunning and a solid relay that led to a double play. Jason Botts, the seventh hitter to reach off Blackburn in the inning, doubled to right field, but Michael Cuddyer fielded the ball and threw it to shortstop Nick Punto, whose relay throw home beat Blalock for the first out. Botts then tried to advance to third on the throw but was called out on the 9-6-2-5 play. Blackburn struck out Frank Catalanotto looking to end the inning.

Blackburn settled down after the rough third to pitch three more innings and not allow another run to score. The bullpen would hold the game until the 10th inning, and gave the Twins a chance to make a comeback.

And the hitters had opportunities. They put the leadoff man on base in four of their final six innings, but only once did that runner reach third base.

"It was one of those games where we scored runs early and just kind of shut down," Gardenhire said. "I thought we got out of the zone, chased a lot of high pitches in counts and didn't take walks I think they were trying to give us as the game went along."

While the Twins couldn't take advantage, the Rangers finally did. Twins right-hander Juan Rincon suffered his first loss of the season when he gave up a two-out, RBI single to David Murphy in the 10th inning. Rincon (2-1) got a ball up and it wound up in the left-center gap, costing the Twins their third straight loss.

"We tried, but we deserved to lose that baseball game," Gardenhire said.

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