ATLANTA – It’s the context that mattered, the timing that hurt the worst. It’s never fun to blow a save, but those mishaps are inevitable.
No, what made Evan Gattis’ game-tying ninth-inning home run so much more wrenching was when it came: in the midst of a losing streak, and after a heartening, turn-things-around Twins rally.
“We’ve been struggling, but the guys fought back and got a lead,” Twins closer Glen Perkins grumbled, upset with himself after the Braves claimed a 5-4 victory in the 10th inning Tuesday. “It’s just bad timing.”
Just about the worst, actually. The Twins waited out a rain delay, overcame two different Atlanta leads, and took their first lead since Friday by putting three hits and a walk together in the eighth inning. Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit were about to be clutch-hit heroes, and the Twins’ losing streak was about to die after six games.
Instead, the streak is at seven, the last-place hole is that much deeper, Perkins is no longer perfect, and Plouffe was in a daze, having collided with Dan Uggla’s knee while breaking up a double play in the 10th. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Plouffe was undergoing tests after the game, and his condition was not known.
Gattis tied the score with his third career pinch-hit home run, pouncing on an 0-1 slider from Perkins that didn’t dive below the strike zone and smacking it six rows deep into the left field stands.
“It’s a pitch I want below the zone and I didn’t get it there,” the closer said after his eight-save streak was broken with the two-out homer. “You’ve got to make good pitches. That guy is up there to do one thing, and he did it.”
The Twins got two quick outs in the 10th, too, but once again couldn’t close out the inning. Jason Heyward lined a rope to the center field wall for a double off Brian Duensing, and after an intentional walk to Justin Upton, Duensing went to a full count on Freddie Freeman. His next pitch broke the cleanup hitter’s bat, but Freeman managed to loop the ball into the outfield, falling for a hit and scoring the winning run.
“We gave just about everything we had,” said Gardenhire, whose team fell to 1-5 in extra innings. “[Gattis] hit a slider coming down and in and put it in the seats. They come up with a bloop there at the end and wind up beating us. ... But our bullpen did a super job of shutting them down.”
They did, actually, until the very end. When a short rain delay in the third inning grew to more than an hour long because a bank of lights briefly went out and had to brighten again, Gardenhire decided not to risk starter Mike Pelfrey’s reconstructed elbow by sending him back out. Anthony Swarzak was handed the ball, and he threw four strong innings, striking out three and allowing only a Brian McCann solo home run. Casey Fien and Jared Burton each retired the Braves in order for an inning, striking out two apiece.
Meanwhile, the Twins did something that’s been eluding them lately — they hit with runners in scoring position, at least for one seemingly decisive eighth-inning rally. After Joe Mauer singled and Josh Willingham walked, Plouffe hit a one-out single to right, bringing home Mauer with the tying run. Doumit, playing right field for the first time in more than a year, followed with a line drive of his own, scoring pinch-runner Brian Dozier.
Suddenly, the Twins had their first lead in four days.
But it didn’t last.
One thing that did last: the Twins’ habit of allowing first-inning runs. Pelfrey gave up an RBI double to Freeman and a run-scoring single to McCann in the first inning, the ninth time in the past 17 games that a Twins opponent has scored in the first. It brings the Twins’ total of first-inning runs allowed to 49, the most in the major leagues.
Braves starter Tim Hudson wasn’t particularly sharp, either; he hit Justin Morneau with a pitch in the second inning, then watched him score on a Pedro Florimon single. An inning later, Mauer singled just as the rain began pouring; an hour later, Willingham and Morneau also singled, driving him home to tie the score.