The Twins managed 19 runs in the series opener against Baltimore and followed that by coming from three runs down to win the following day.
The final two games of the series, though, followed a similar story line: missed opportunities that led to a one-run loss. Thursday, they failed to do much with the bats after a two-run first inning, then saw their lead disappear near the end of a 4-3 Orioles victory at Target Field.
"We kept putting pressure on them by getting some people on base," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after his team left eight runners on base and fell to 16-17 in one-run games this season. "Unfortunately, just couldn't come up with the big hit, which has happened too many times."
Unlike Wednesday, when a two-run homer in the first inning wound up costing Francisco Liriano the ballgame in a 2-1 loss, this time the Twins were ahead until late. Cole De Vries gave up only one run and five hits, exiting up 3-1 after six innings, but the bullpen gave up a run in the seventh inning before surrendering the lead in the eighth.
Mark Reynolds' two-out, two-run bloop single to center off Anthony Swarzak gave Baltimore a 4-3 lead, a rally that began when Alex Burnett issued two one-out walks. The blooper dropped in front of Denard Span, who initially froze for half a second. That's all it took.
"We walked ourselves into a bit of a mess at the end," Gardenhire said. "That's how you lose a ballgame at the end, by walks and missing plays."
Down a run, the Twins threatened in the bottom of the eighth when Josh Willingham walked and Justin Morneau singled. But Trevor Plouffe hit a foul popup, Darin Mastroianni grounded into a fielder's choice and Brian Dozier flied out.
That eighth inning mirrored the previous night, when the Twins had loaded the bases with two outs, but Morneau grounded out to end the threat. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Wednesday. Thursday, they were 3-for-10, but they left two runners on in the first, fourth and eighth innings.
"Had a tough game last night -- lost a one-run game -- and had a tough game today and lost a one-run game," Willingham said. "You have to be able to win close games at this level."
Plouffe's errant throw in the seventh inning started Baltimore's comeback. With runners at second and third and one out, Nick Markakis hit a hard, spinning grounder to third, and Plouffe threw to the plate. But his throw brushed the top of catcher Joe Mauer's glove and flew to the backstop, enabling Chris Davis to score.
Though it was an earned run for Brian Duensing, a better throw might have gotten Davis.
"I made a bad throw," said Plouffe, who hit an RBI double in the first inning off Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen (8-5). "That's it. I made a bad throw."
Still, the Twins wiggled out of that inning up 3-2. But it came apart for them in the eighth.
The Twins' usually reliable bullpen faltered after throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings over the previous two games. The result was only their fifth defeat in 38 games this season when leading after seven innings.
The bullpen might be showing signs of fatigue. It entered the day ranked third in the majors for the most innings pitched this season at 324 2/3.
A rest might be in order, Gardenhire said. De Vries left after 95 pitches, but Gardenhire said he might consider using starters deeper into games.
"I don't want to beat them up too much," Gardenhire said of the starters. "Maybe that's stretching pitchers out to 115, 120 pitches. I don't know if that's right either, but we have to figure out a way to get seven or eight innings out of them."