You have to appreciate the optimism, at least, of a team that hands out magnetic schedules for three consecutive days, then gives the paying customers so little reason to need them.
The smallest crowd in Target Field history — announced at 20,650, topping the previous low of 21,826 last Sept. 9 — was rewarded Thursday with bright sunshine, relatively warm temperatures, and the Twins’ ninth loss in a row on their home diamond, dating back to last season.
Coincidentally, the deflating 6-1 loss to Oakland was also the Twins’ ninth in a row against the A’s, a team that accomplishes to many of the things they aspire to: Offense at every spot in the lineup, enough power to score more than a run at a time, and starting pitching that might not be overpowering but still is plenty effective.
“It’s a tough team,” outfielder Jason Kubel said of the defending AL West champions. “We battled. We just have to keep playing hard and start scoring some runs.”
Heck, start with some hits. Brian Dozier smashed his third home run of the season in the first inning, and Kubel and Josmil Pinto added singles in the second. But Dan Straily and his 88-mile-per-hour fastball held the Twins hitless from that point on. With the help of two relievers, no Twins player reached second base in the final seven innings.
“Those little breaking balls, and the deception with his fastball — he had us off-balance,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
That’s a big change. The Twins actually led the league in scoring during the season’s first week, and were confident that their offense was underrated. But the A’s held them to eight runs over three games, scored 21 of their own, and swept a series from the Twins for the third time in three seasons.
Maybe it’s best that so few people showed up to watch.
“It’s 12 o’clock,” Kubel theorized about all the empty seats. “People are working.”
And they chose work over play, perhaps knowing what was to come. The Twins market those midweek noon starts as a great way to play hooky from the office, but the team seems to skip out, too; they haven’t won one of these weekday matinees here since last June, going 0-6 in since then.
“It’s not about the ballpark, it’s our players. We’ve won here,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got to get it done. It’s not the ballpark.”
Maybe not, but Target Field hasn’t felt homey in a while. The Twins are 5-25 here since last Aug. 13.
Worst of all, the Twins have dissipated much of the energy they built during a 3-3 season-opening road trip, and it’s not exactly a secret why: They have yet to win a well-pitched game.
Only once in nine games has their starter delivered a quality start (by its six-inning, three-run definition), and the bullpen surrendered that lead.
The culprit Thursday was Mike Pelfrey, who didn’t come close to having the shutdown stuff he displayed for five innings last Friday in Cleveland. Instead, this performance resembled the every-inning messiness of the 2013 Pelfrey. He was the slow-working, high-pitch-count, constantly-falling-behind righthander who doesn’t attack the strike zone.
“Pelf was just picking too much. He gets long counts, gets behind hitters and then they whack it,” Gardenhire said. “He’s trying to be too fine. You’ve got to throw the ball over the plate. Just off the plate outside, just off the plate inside — that’s not good enough.”
Pelfrey gave up six runs on nine hits over five innings and, unlike his sudden meltdown last week, the damage didn’t come all at once. After retiring the side in order in the first inning, he put on at least two baserunners in every inning, and Oakland scored in four of the six innings he started. Every A’s batter collected a hit except Wednesday’s home run hero, Derek Norris. And Josh Donaldson and Sam Fuld each connected for their first home run of the year.
“That’s what happens,” Pelfrey said after becoming the third Twins starter with an ERA above 7.00. “Leave balls over the middle, leave them up, and that’s the medicine you get.”
“We’re not off to a good start at home,” Joe Mauer said after going 0-for-4, “but we’ve got another one tomorrow.”
They do, against the Royals. The Twins have lost seven in a row at home to them.