NEW YORK -- The Twins have had to turn to their bullpen more often than usual over the past week, and all of the extra work has started to wear on the club's relievers. Minnesota's bullpen has posted a 7.40 ERA while pitching 20 2/3 innings over its past six games, dating back to May 10. And on Saturday, the relief corps' fatigue left the Twins with a dwindling number of relief options to use in their 6-4, 11-inning loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run walk-off homer off left-hander Craig Breslow in the 11th to give New York its second successive comeback win over Minnesota in the late innings.
"You know, in the late innings, we've seen it over and over again," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Those guys come up with something all the time -- some big hit." With the bullpen taxed, Twins starter Nick Blackburn was able to pitch deep into his outing -- allowing four runs over 7 2/3 innings. Blackburn held the Yankees to just three runs over his first seven innings, all of the runs coming on a three-run homer by Mark Teixeira in the third inning. The Twins were able to erase the damage of that homer and take a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, thanks to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each hitting solo home runs -- the fifth time this season they've homered in the same game -- and Brian Buscher tallying two RBIs, including one on a double to take the lead in the eighth. But shortly after his club had taken the lead, Blackburn was once again burned by Teixeira, who had four of the six hits allowed by the starter in his outing. After giving up a leadoff double to Hideki Matsui, Blackburn was able to use his own fielding skills to record two critical outs on Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. But up came Teixeira again, and the Yankees slugger hit a single to right field that tied the game at 4. "I was trying to just be careful with him, but I did the same thing I had done to him all day -- just got one over the plate," Blackburn said. "So I should have been more careful. It was a matter of every at-bat, I gave him something too good to hit." Following Teixeira's single is when the Twins had to once again turn to their bullpen. This time, it was with fewer options than normal. After Friday night's loss, Gardenhire said that closer Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares were all not available for Saturday afternoon's contest. Nathan was coming off pitching in four straight contests and appearing in six of the club's past seven games. And both Crain and Mijares had each pitched in four of five contests. "[Nathan] said, 'I can go,' but he's going to say that every game," Gardenhire said. "We have a lot of baseball games left. Keep running him out there, you just can't do it. It's not the right thing. You can't kill the guy." After Teixeira's RBI single, the Twins replaced Blackburn with Matt Guerrier, whom Gardenhire said afterward would have gotten the save opportunity if Minnesota had been able to take a lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. Guerrier did his job, pitching two scoreless innings while not allowing a hit to New York over that time. Breslow (1-2) was then brought in to face left-handed-hitting Johnny Damon with two outs in the 10th, and he got Damon to pop out for the final out of the inning. Trying not to decimate his bullpen has been more difficult of late for Gardenhire. With the club battling through a lot of tight games, he's turned to his most reliable options more often than not. And perhaps it was telling on Saturday that the team stuck with Breslow for the 11th inning with Teixeira and Rodriguez on deck, rather than to go with the other two remaining options in the 'pen -- R.A. Dickey and Luis Ayala. Breslow, the club's left-handed specialist, walked the switch-hitting Teixeira before Rodriguez came up to the plate. And on an 0-1 pitch, Rodriguez blasted a shot to left field for his second homer of the year and his eighth career walk-off home run. "I was going to try to throw something in on his hands, some cutter, and get myself a ground ball," Breslow said. "I think obviously he was looking in. I felt like I threw a good pitch and he put a good swing on it." The Yankees third baseman had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk in his four previous plate appearances in the contest. "It doesn't matter to me how he's swinging over the course of a game," Gardenhire said of Rodriguez. "He might have a couple of bad at-bats, but you've got a great hitter that can do that at any time. ... You hate to see him come up in those situations, because he's not going to miss very many times. We saw that today." Gardenhire pointed to some missed opportunities by his offense -- including the club's inability to score after putting runners on first and second with no outs in the seventh -- as frustrating parts of the contest. Yet the most frustrating thing seemed to be watching yet another potential win turn into a loss at Yankee Stadium, as the Twins fell to 3-21 in the Bronx since the start of the 2002 season. "Our guys battled hard," Gardenhire said. "After a tough loss [Friday], people say that's really going to knock you down. I don't think it knocked us down. We had energy today. Unfortunately, we just couldn't figure out a way to get a run in and hold [the lead] to the end."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.