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Twins miss shot to extend lead

Twins miss shot to extend lead

SEATTLE -- For six innings on Monday night, the Twins looked like a club that was poised to grab a full-game lead in the American League Central and solidify its status as contenders in the pennant chase.

Having taken a six-run lead into the bottom of the sixth inning against a Mariners team that sat 27 games out of first place in their own division race, the Twins appeared well on their way to a seemingly much-needed road victory.

Then came the inning during which Minnesota looked more like a division cellar-dweller than a first-place ballclub.

The Twins watched a five-run lead dissipate -- and quickly -- in the seventh against Seattle as the Mariners delivered a 10-run inning. And what had seemed a laugher victory against the last-place AL West ballclub suddenly turned into a nauseating 11-6 loss for Minnesota.

"There were two different parts to the ballgame," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said while still shaking his head after the loss. "We executed and played very well in the first half of the game. And then [starter Glen] Perkins, in the seventh inning, he had a couple of guys 0-2 and gave up base hits. Then he threw one right down the middle of the plate."

Perkins had cruised through the early part of his outing, giving up just one run through six innings.

And the Twins had built him an apparently solid lead by tagging Mariners right-hander Miguel Batista for six runs over three-plus innings.

But all of the momentum Minnesota had built changed with one swing of the bat.

Just one inning after working his way out of a jam with the bases loaded and no outs to give up only one run, Perkins once again found himself in trouble.

The left-hander got a quick out to start the sixth against Seattle's No. 8 hitter Kenji Johjima. But from there, he couldn't find a way to get anything to go his way. Perkins gave up a single, walked leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki and then gave up another single through a hole to load the bases.

That's when Raul Ibanez came to the plate. After missing with his first fastball, Perkins threw the same pitch again. This time, the southpaw left it over the plate, and the sound of cracking wood and the towering shot over the right-field wall meant only one thing -- momentum shift -- in the wrong direction for the Twins, of course.

Ibanez's grand slam -- his second of the season -- reduced the Twins' five-run lead to just one and got the Mariners turned back around.

"It's a game that we had. That we should win," Perkins said. "And that started with me not making good pitches in that inning."

And Gardenhire, who tossed his hat in the dugout in frustration after the grand slam, wasn't able to capture his composure as things never turned back the Twins' way in the unexpected 10-run inning.

"[Perkins] gave up a grand slam to Ibanez, and next thing you know, our bullpen couldn't get anybody out -- just terrible pitches and balls flying all over the place," Gardenhire said.

The Twins know that to remain atop the division, they have to learn how to pick up important victories on the road -- a task that's been difficult for them so far this season. That's because relying on their bullpen to finish off ballgames, well, that's something that's been equally as difficult.

While the Minnesota bullpen has ranked at the top in ERA at home this season, it has ranked last in the same category on the road -- a fact that certainly wasn't helped by its struggles on Monday night.

Although Perkins exited with the Twins still holding a one-run lead, things went just as badly for the club's bullpen. Without left-hander Dennys Reyes, who went back to the hotel with a suspected case of food poisoning, and right-hander Jesse Crain, who had pitched Sunday, the Twins were forced to look elsewhere for outs.

And they just couldn't find them.

Right-hander Brian Bass (3-4) faced two batters and gave up two hits that eventually led to two runs, including the go-ahead score. Craig Breslow relieved Bass, and after recording one out, he issued a walk.

That's when Matt Guerrier came in to face Johjima, and the Mariners pinch-hit rookie catcher Jeff Clement, a lefty. Guerrier threw a first-pitch fastball that Clement laced into right field to score the go-ahead run. Four more runs scored with Guerrier on the mound, including three that were charged to the right-hander.

"The momentum swings completely after [the grand slam]," Guerrier said. "But we still have to go out there and get two outs. I came in there just trying to get one out. But when things are going bad, it kind of trickles down. And we just couldn't get it done today."

The loss dropped the Twins into a tie for first place in the AL Central with the White Sox, who were idle on Monday. Although it was a tie, Chicago still is a few percentage points ahead of Minnesota due to having played one fewer game.

This seemed a particularly difficult loss given the circumstances and the fact that the Twins had finally taken solo possession of first place the previous day. But while it may appear to be a devastating loss on paper, the Twins were trying not to view it as that.

"A win is a win and a loss is a loss," Perkins said. "We don't want to be in first place on August 4. We want to be in first place when the season ends.

"Obviously we want to win every game we can right now. But I can't dwell on this. I'll start focusing on my next outing. Hopefully the guys will pick me up and pick themselves up and we'll win a game here [Tuesday]."

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

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