TORONTO – Aaron Hicks flipped his bat to the ground. Trevor Plouffe slammed his helmet. Justin Morneau just shook his head.
Signs of frustration were up and down the Twins batting order Friday night while they made outs against lefthander Mark Buehrle. Again.
And Ron Gardenhire is sick of it. After the Twins lost 4-0 to the Toronto Blue Jays — their sixth loss in a row — the manager told his team to lighten up a little.
“I told the boys it is baseball,” Gardenhire said. “We’re making it like a job right now. It’s got to be baseball. That’s the message to the team tonight.
“These guys are working their tails off. They go out there and do everything they can, and the games have just not been clicking for us. We have to get back to relaxing and have some guys smile. There’s too much tension.”
Asked how does a team relax, Gardenhire fired back that he would kick players in the rear if they weren’t smiling, adding: “These are grown men in uniforms, running around a baseball field, and now we have all the pressure in the world on us, like the sky is falling. The sky is not falling. There’s people out there in a little more trouble that we are into.”
Plouffe went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He threw his helmet to the ground after striking out on a Buehrle fastball clocked at 85 miles per hour to end the top of the sixth inning.
“It’s true. There’s nothing wrong with what we are doing,” Plouffe said. “We’re going out there and playing hard. We’re preparing the right way. We’re giving a great effort. When something doesn’t go our way, say we don’t knock a guy in from second base, it’s OK. You can’t let that deflate what we are trying to do.”
The opposing pitcher can affect a team’s mood, and Friday was certainly not the first time Twins hitters walked back to the dugout muttering to themselves after facing Buehrle. The former White Sox lefthander improved to 28-19 in 52 career appearances against the Twins.
With seven shutout innings, Buehrle (5-5) has now thrown 35⅔ consecutive innings against the Twins without giving up an earned run. He didn’t give up any runs in his final three starts against the Twins in 2011, his final season with the White Sox. He scattered six hits with no walks and struck out five.
Brian Dozier beat out an infield hit to begin the game. Two batters later, Ryan Doumit singled to right and took second on the throw to third. But Justin Morneau struck out looking and Plouffe struck out swinging. End of inning. It was their best scoring chance of the game.
“Things like that, when we don’t get one in and the air goes out of your tires,” Gardenhire said of the inning. “You can’t play like that. You have to keep grinding. You have to keep going at them.”
The Twins were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the third when Jose Bautista hammered a hanging breaking ball from Kevin Correia over the center field wall. The Blue Jays added three more off Correia (6-6) in the fourth, two on a double by Jose Reyes.
Gardenhire and Twins players talked as music blasted from a sound system. Music is usually played after victories, but these Twins are searching for anything to stop their slide.
“The first instinct when things aren’t going good is to tighten up and try to force things, and that’s not a good way to play baseball,” Correia said. “We want to stay loose and have a good time. That’s when you usually play your best.”