Like a football coach who goes for it on fourth down, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire weighed all the factors Monday night and decided to take his chances.
Jason Kubel’s two-out single off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon had just scored Denard Span with the Twins’ first run, tying the score in the eighth inning at Fenway Park.
With Justin Morneau at the plate, Gardenhire inserted Alexi Casilla as a pinch runner, removing Kubel from the game.
"We’re going to steal second base there," Gardenhire said after his team’s 2-1, 11-inning loss to end a nine-game road trip. "We had a chance to win the game. With the way the pitching’s going, there’s no question we were going to run for Kubel there."
The Twins knew Papelbon and catcher Jason Varitek have had a hard time holding runners, and Casilla got his stolen base, moving into scoring position.
But Papelbon fanned Morneau to halt that threat, and two innings later, the .177-hitting Casilla came up in a key spot instead of the .347-hitting Kubel.
That time, the Twins had runners at first and second with one out against Boston lefthander Hideki Okajima, but Matt Tolbert struck out (dropping his average to .164), and Casilla grounded out to end the inning.
The Twins also left two runners on against Okajima in the 11th inning, and Boston finally ended it in the bottom half, when Carl Crawford doubled off the Green Monster against Twins reliever Jim Hoey, scoring pinch runner Jose Iglesias from first.
The Twins finished 3-6 on an 11-day trip that started at Kansas City and Chicago and ended with three consecutive losses.
"We had however many innings to knock in another run and just didn’t get it done," said Gardenhire, who got ejected for arguing a disputed foul tip call on Danny Valencia by plate umpire Joe West in the ninth inning. "We just haven’t been swinging. That continued again tonight."
With the lowest-scoring offense in the American League, and with numerous questions about his relief core beyond Glen Perkins (who already had entered the game), Gardenhire knew there might not be many chances after the eighth inning.
Morneau finished 2-for-5, raising his average to .212. He had a single in the 11th that came three innings too late.
When teams aren’t scoring, decisions are magnified, and this game was filled with strategy intrigue.
The only run Boston scored off Nick Blackburn came in the fifth. With two outs and a runner on third, pitching coach Rick Anderson made a visit to the mound. Lefthanded-hitting Adrian Gonzalez was coming to the plate with righthanded-hitting cleanup man Kevin Youkilis on deck.
"The fact there’s an open base, and [Gonzalez is] their best hitter in the lineup — obviously we like our chances with someone else other than him," Blackburn said. "So I had full intentions of pitching around him and didn’t execute."
Blackburn tried getting his first pitch to the dirt but left it belt-high, and Gonzalez lined an RBI single to left field.
The Red Sox faced a similar dilemma in the eighth, when they were still clinging to a 1-0 lead. The Twins had a runner on second, two outs and Kubel at the plate with Morneau on deck.
Boston manager Terry Francona summoned closer Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched to Kubel. Papelbon quickly got two strikes, but Kubel stayed alive before looping his game-tying single.
"That was heck of a ballgame," Gardenhire said. "In this ballpark, to have a 1-1 game going to extra innings is pretty amazing, to tell you the truth, and says a lot about both pitching staffs."
But the loss dropped the Twins (12-21) back to nine games under .500.
By JOE CHRISTENSEN