Twins' big lead, big homers not enough

Big lead, big homers not enough

OAKLAND -- Ron Gardenhire has seen a lot of crazy things happen to his ballclub over his eight seasons as Twins manager.

But Monday night's game against the A's provided something he had never witnessed -- his team blowing a 10-run lead, only to then have the tying run ruled out at home on the final play of the contest, as Minnesota suffered a 14-13 loss in the series opener at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

On a night when the Twins' offense had built a 12-2 lead through the top of the third inning, they watched as their pitching staff combined to give up 14 runs on 22 hits to the A's to tie the biggest collapse in club history.

"One of those games you see normally other teams play," Gardenhire said. "We don't get involved in those too many times where our bullpen gives up runs like that and our starter has a hard time. We just didn't pitch good enough tonight."

It was the second time in team history that the club had blown a 10-run lead. It also happened on Sept. 28, 1984, at Cleveland.

The sting of that poor pitching performance could have been eased slightly for the Twins, if only the gut-wrenching final play of the game had gone the other way.

Trailing by one with two outs in the ninth and nobody on base, the Twins saw a glimmer of hope when Michael Cuddyer doubled off Michael Wuertz. Following an intentional walk to Jason Kubel, Wuertz threw a wild pitch with Delmon Young at the plate that bounced high in the air off catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove and back toward the backstop.

Seeing the pitch get clearly away from Suzuki, Cuddyer headed for home as Young frantically waved him on. With Wuertz covering home plate after receiving the throw from Suzuki, Cuddyer slid between the pitcher's legs, and it appeared that his foot touched the plate before Wuertz's tag.

But Cuddyer was called out by home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski, eliciting a strong reaction from the right fielder as he tried to argue before Gardenhire stepped in. Cuddyer stormed off, throwing his helmet down in frustration.

"No doubt in my mind I was safe," Cuddyer said.

When asked to comment on the play after the game, crew chief Tom Hallion said, "No thanks."

It was a tough way to see the contest end, but Gardenhire wasn't placing all the blame on what he felt was a missed call.

"Cuddy slid in and was safe -- there is no doubt about that," Gardenhire said. "We also shot ourselves in the foot pitching-wise. It's hard to point the finger and say, 'He blew it,' because we did enough blowing it ourselves."

The night had started so promisingly after the Twins had managed to tag A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez for 11 runs on 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings.

That was thanks in large part to a power show by Justin Morneau, who belted two home runs -- including his sixth career grand slam -- en route to tallying a career-high seven RBIs. He fell just one RBI short of the club's single-game record, which had been done twice previously.

But shortly after the Twins took that 12-2 lead, it began to diminish as starter Nick Blackburn delivered one of his worst outings of the season. He allowed seven runs to the A's over five innings while scattering 13 hits -- which tied a season high for hits allowed by a Twins pitcher.

It was an outing that was very uncharacteristic for the most consistent Minnesota starter in the first half.

"It's frustrating for me," said Blackburn, who struggled to find the feel for his sinker all night. "I have a great chance to just go out there and eat some innings up. If I give up a couple runs, so what. But for me to struggle as bad as I did, that's really frustrating and that shouldn't happen."

The Twins were still leading, 13-7, heading into the seventh inning. But that's when things went haywire for Minnesota, as Oakland capped off its comeback with a seven-run inning off the Twins' bullpen.

After Brian Duensing loaded the bases with no outs, the A's scored two runs on Orlando Cabrera's double. Matt Holliday then came to the plate with the bases loaded and representing the tying run. Holliday did what seemed improbable -- blasting a grand slam off Twins reliever Bobby Keppel to knot the game at 13.

The contest didn't remain tied for long. Left-hander Jose Mijares replaced Keppel on the mound, and on the first pitch the lefty threw, Jack Cust belted a homer to deep center field to put the A's on top.

For the Twins, who were coming off a 12-inning, 5-3 loss to the Rangers the previous night -- when they also blew an early lead -- it was their second consecutive tough loss. But it's one they'll try to put behind them quickly.

"Probably the craziest game I've ever been a part of," Cuddyer said.

"Today it just wasn't in the cards for us, with everything that happened. I'm not a big destiny or fate guy, but it just didn't seem like it was our night to win."

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