MILWAUKEE – Joe Mauer slid home just ahead of a tag attempt by Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Twins led by a run in the seventh, and Blaine Boyer was warming up.
The Twins bullpen could use some upgrading, but followers have been conditioned to be comforted by the sight of Boyer warming up because he has been steady. Casey Fien, back as the eighth-inning setup man, has been more than reliable. Glen Perkins hasn’t blown a save in 24 chances.
The ball never reached Perkins on Sunday. Boyer allowed the Brewers to tie the score and Fien allowed them to win it 5-3, in the decisive game of the three-game series. The team with the second-worst record in baseball and worst home record went 4-2 against the Twins in interleague play.
Boyer — who came in after Tommy Milone threw 99 pitches over six shutout innings — threw a decent pitch to Aramis Ramirez, but the veteran lined an opposite-field double to start the seventh. Pinch runner Hector Gomez was bunted to third. Boyer broke Shane Peterson’s bat as he grounded out to first. But pinch hitter Gerardo Parra, batting .538 in those situations, dumped a single to left, driving in the tying run.
“Right there,” Boyer said, “to have that fillet job was disheartening.”
Fien entered Sunday with one walk and one home run allowed in 22 ⅔ innings. It took two batters to double those numbers. Lucroy walked to start the eighth and Ryan Braun hit a 1-0 pitch an estimated 433 feet to give Milwaukee a 3-1 lead. It became 5-1 after Carlos Gomez singled to left and Adam Lind belted an opposite-field homer.
“There are strikes and there are quality strikes,” Fien said. “And I did not throw enough quality strikes. The strikes I did throw they hit.”
The Twins made Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez throw 30 pitches in the ninth. Torii Hunter hit his third home run in two days, a two-run shot with no outs. Then the Twins had runners on first and third with two outs when Brian Dozier was caught looking to end the game. He barked at plate umpire Lance Barrett, for a couple of his decisions.
The bullpen failing has been rare this season. The Twins are 34-1 when leading after seven innings, but they didn’t get a chance to make it 35-1 because the Brewers tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh.
“As a reliever you know you are going to get your time out again,” Fien said. “My next time out I’ve got to bounce back and get some outs.”
We’re approaching the stage of the season when trade talk will heat up, and the Twins undoubtedly will search for bullpen help. They entered Sunday with a 3.81 bullpen ERA, which ranks 24th in the majors. Boyer, Fien and Perkins aren’t the problem, but it wouldn’t hurt if they had another capable setup man.
The recent call-up of hard-throwing Alex Meyer bears watching. The Twins lack power arms in the bullpen, and Meyer could be an asset if he can throw quality strikes. There is some concern, however, that Meyer needs more angle on his pitches, an adjustment that must be addressed during offseason work — and this isn’t the offseason.
Relievers are going to get hit eventually, like two of the Twins’ best did Sunday.
“You can’t overreact to the game where guys who have been doing the job don’t have their best days,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Obviously, the margin of error was small. Runs were tough to come by, especially early in the game.
“Those guys know you get behind guys 3-1 in the seventh and the leadoff walk in the eighth, not a good way to start an inning when you get in there. They have been throwing well, and today they both kind of got bit. It’s just kind of how it goes sometimes.”