The Twins on Wednesday afternoon scored twice in the sixth inning to climb to within 5-4 of the White Sox, and it felt as if it would be only a matter of time before they would shove the worst team in the AL Central out of the way.
Justin Morneau, celebrating his 32nd birthday, batted with two outs and the tying run on second. Morneau, who has been dialed in on everything of late, checked his swing on a six-foot grounder and was thrown out to end the inning.
It was the last threat the Twins mustered. Chicago went on to win 9-4 and take two of three at Target Field. A White Sox team that was a mess entering the series won the final two games.
“They got us,’’ Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Those guys just outplayed us. That’s the bottom line.’’
The Twins have much more going for them than the White Sox and should not lose a home series to a team that likely won’t climb out of the division basement.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura addressed his team about numerous mistakes during a meeting Saturday. When they rolled over in a sloppy loss to the Twins on Monday, Ventura had the team out on the field early Tuesday — in full uniform — for drills.
By the end of the series, the tables had turned. The Twins fell short in all areas Wednesday.
On the mound, it was righthander Mike Pelfrey, who hasn’t quite graduated from the Tommy John Academy of elbow enhancement.
Pelfrey, once again, was inconsistent. Sometimes, his pitches are alive. Other times, they’re flat and opponents feast on them. Pelfrey gave up five runs over four innings on eight hits and two walks.
“Kind of the same thing as last start,’’ Pelfrey said. “Secondary stuff wasn’t quite where I wanted it to.’’
The Twins led 2-0 after two innings — one run coming on a home run by Eduardo Escobar in the second — before Chicago got a two-run homer by Adam Dunn in the third and a solo homer by Dayan Viciedo in the fourth to take a 3-2 lead. Pelfrey was chased by an RBI double by Dunn in the fifth, and a sacrifice fly in the inning made it 5-2.
“Ongoing process,’’ Gardenhire said of Pelfrey. “Just keep running him out there and see if we can get better as we go along here.’’
The Twins lamented wasted opportunities. They were 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position. They left two men on base in four separate innings. In the third and fifth, they watched the first two batters get on, followed by three outs. They scored twice in the sixth, but were done after that as they lost in front of an announced crowd of 35,613 on a glorious afternoon in the Twin Cities.
Somehow, righthander Dylan Axelrod and his diet of breaking balls and changeups, handled the Twins for 5 ⅓ innings before Chicago’s bullpen retired the final 11 batters. The missed opportunities early caught up with the Twins.
Gardenhire has been pleased with his defense in the early season, but wasn’t pleased in the seventh, when Jeff Keppinger hit a two-run double down the left field line on a hard grounder that was just to the right of Escobar at third. It was ruled a hit but could have been called an error because Escobar didn’t have to move much to his right. Dunn added another two-run homer in the eighth to pad the lead.
If the Twins want to be more than a .500 team, they can’t break down across the board against beatable teams as they did Wednesday.
“You’d like to get hot and stay hot and ramble off a good little streak, and we haven’t been able to do that,’’ infielder Jamey Carroll said. “But we’re hanging around.’’