PHOENIX - With winning streaks come confidence, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has noticed his team coming around after it won three consecutive games heading into the series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.
The Twins still have some rough edges -- especially on defense -- but the manager has seen progress.
"Gotta get the players believing in themselves that we can get it done,'' he said, "and, over the last thee games, they feel pretty good about themselves.''
But then one of the rough edges popped up on the Twins on Friday in a 8-7 loss to Arizona. Minnesota gave up seven runs over the seventh and eighth innings, and that enabled the Diamondbacks to end the Twins' three-game winning streak.
The seventh inning was the game-changer for the Twins.
Starter Brian Duensing entered the inning with a 2-1 lead. He promptly gave up a home run, a double, a single and an RBI base hit before being replaced. In came Glen Perkins, who inherited runners at first and second. Kelly Johnson bunted into a force out at third, but Ian Kennedy bunted the runners to second and third. The Twins then intentionally walked Willie Bloomquist to load the bases and create a force play.
That backfired when Ryan Roberts laced a breaking pitch to left-center for a double that cleared the bases for a 6-2 Arizona lead.
"I think our offense is starting to click,'' said Duensing, who gave up five runs and seven hits over six-plus innings. "And it's going to be up to us pitchers to keep things in check."
Jason Kubel's two-run triple to deep center got the Twins within 6-4, but Arizona scored twice off righthander Kevin Slowey.
Gardenhire was disappointed in Slowey's pitching.
"We made some real silly pitches,'' he said. "Bases open, we had a chance to pitch around people and get them to chase and we're lobbing curveballs in there, and it kind of snowballed on us."
Slowey's bad outing was crushing, because the Twins fought back with three runs in the ninth on a solo home run by Danny Valencia, RBI double by Drew Butera and bases-loaded walk to Trevor Plouffe. Arizona brought in sidearming lefty Joe Paterson, who struck out Kubel looking and got Justin Morneau to ground out to end the game.
"It still wasn't a win, but it was a good sign for us,'' Kubel said. "Guys beared down at the end, except for me."
The day began on a somber note, as the organization gathered Friday for the trip to Peoria, Ariz., and Harmon Killebrew's funeral. It's been a long couple of weeks for the team, and Twins fans, since Killebrew announced the end of his battle with cancer on May 12, died on Tuesday and was given funeral services on Friday. The Twins have a memorial service scheduled for Thursday at Target Field.
But Gardenhire sounded like a proud papa as he spoke about how his team has handled the situation. Several players have been eloquent while talking about what Killebrew means to them.
"My players have handled this very, very well, the whole situation,'' he said. "There have been a lot of questions and a lot of talk, and I think the players have stood up and have been very accountable about answering questions and talking about Harmon.''
Twins fans in town for the series brought posters honoring Killebrew. The Diamondbacks stepped up as well. They had Killebrew's family at the game and played a video tribute before the third inning -- of course.
The family watched the Twins get solo home runs from Michael Cuddyer in the second and Plouffe in the sixth.
Then came Arizona's fireworks, which the Twins couldn't completely answer.