ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Michael A. Taylor crossed the plate Wednesday night with the tying run, he believed he had changed the game with his speed.
"The dugout was great. To tie the game up right there in the ninth inning was big," the Twins center fielder said. "It felt like we had the game."
Trouble was, they had only tied the game, and their turn at bat ended before they could change that. Randy Arozarena untied it on the second pitch of the bottom of the ninth, homering to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 win, and the Twins missed a chance to snap their losing streak.
It could have gone differently, Max Kepler admitted Thursday, if he hadn't made a fundamental mistake.
"Max should have been on second base," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said a day later, and probably should have scored on the same Royce Lewis single that drove Taylor home.
But Kepler was still on first base because he didn't budge when Taylor surprised the Rays by stealing third base.
"They weren't holding him on — they were actually just giving him second base," complained Baldelli, who is normally reluctant to publicly criticize his players' mistakes. "That's more not being on the ball than probably anything else."
Kepler said the manager called him into his office for a conversation about the play on Thursday.
"It went well," the veteran outfielder said. "I learned from the mistake I made. I should have had second with ease."
Would he have scored the go-ahead run? "Yeah, if I was on second," Kepler confessed. "Yeah, probably."
It's been a rough season for Kepler, especially lately. With an 0-for-2 in the series finale, his now has four hits, all singles, in 33 at-bats since returning from the injured list on May 29, a .121 average with 10 strikeouts and one walk. His average for the season has fallen to .189, with only six home runs and 15 RBI.
"I'm grinding every day, regardless of the results. I try and stay even-keeled, regardless of what's on the board," Kepler said. "I'm trying to stay out of my head. Keep the body healthy and keep going. Just focus on tomorrow. Work. Put the head down and work."
Nearing a record
The Twins' 30 steals this season are fewer than any American League team except the Angels (29), but their six failed attempts are also second-fewest in the AL to the White Sox (five).
And their record is spotless lately. No Twins base-stealer has been thrown since Ryan Jeffers tried unsuccessfully to steal his first career bag on May 13. The Twins' current streak of 20 successful steals is one short of their franchise record of 21 straight from Sept. 25, 2006 to April 21, 2007.
Ex-pitching coach lauded
Wes Johnson was focused entirely on the pitching staff during his 3½ years as Baldelli's pitching coach, but the manager has little doubt that his former colleague will be a success as the head coach for the University of Georgia, which hired him on Monday.
"Wes will do a great job. He's a really good motivator. He's going to do a good job talking to his group and having them ready to go," Baldelli said. "He's of course going to be a big part of the pitching discussion because why wouldn't he be? And he's going to put some people around him too and ask a lot of questions and prepare himself the best he can on the offensive end and running the game."
That energy will make the 51-year-old Johnson a great recruiter, Baldelli predicted. "You put Wes in front of a young man and his family, he's going to get them excited," Baldelli said. "It's a real strength."
Home plate umpire Chris Segal stopped Twins starter Bailey Ober on the way to the mound in the fourth inning Thursday and, after checking his pitching hand for sticky substances, told him to wash his hand before taking the mound.
"He thought I had too much sweat on my hands. I use the rosin when I'm out on the field, so he thought it was too much and told me to just go back in there and wash my hands," Ober said. "It is a little frustrating. I'm not using anything out there. My spin rates didn't change."
Saints split doubleheader
Jair Camargo homered for the third game in a row, but the St. Paul Saints lost 13-3 to the Iowa Cubs in the opening game of a doubleheader at CHS Field, ending their five-game winning streak. But the Saints rallied to win the nightcap 7-6 in the eighth inning to split.