MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 19: Chris Davis #19 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins during the second inning on July 19, 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Things were going along quite famously. The Twins struck early, always a good sign, scoring twice in the bottom of the first. Ben Revere stole his 20th base, Joe Mauer walked, Josh Willingham delivered a run-scoring single and Trevor Plouffe a run-scoring double. Wei-Yin Chen was against the ropes already, throwing nearly 30 pitches in the first and generally going back and forth between missing his spots or getting hit hard.
Chris Davis homered in the second to make it 2-1, but an Alexi Casilla sac fly in the fourth gave the Twins another run for some breathing room. The way Cole De Vries was dealing with Orioles batters, it seemed like this game was in the bag from the fourth inning on. He retired the last eight batters he faced, handing over to the Minnesota bullpen for the seventh inning with a two-run lead.
De Vries and the Twins were never as in control as it seemed in those middle innings. Baltimore either had scored or had a runner in scoring position in three of those first four innings, and that continued as soon as De Vries departed.
In the seventh, Brian Duensing surrendered a walk and a single before recording the first out of the frame. With one down and runners on second and third, Nick Markakis hit a grounder to Trevor Plouffe who made a high throw to the plate. A better throw, or even if Mauer had made the catch, Davis would have been tagged out at the plate easily. Duensing then intentionally walked J.J. Hardy to get to Jim Thome, but a good defensive stop and play by Brian Dozier culminated in an inning-ending double play to end the threat.
When the Twins didn't counter, Alex Burnett came out for the eighth and continued his recent slate of bad appearances. After leading off the inning with an out he issued back-to-back walks. Tyler Robertson replaced him and did his job too well, inducing a ground ball from Davis but it was far too weak to turn two. The Twins settled for one, and were once again faced with runners on second and third.
It was mentioned that Jared Burton would be the closer for today's game, if the situation arose. With two outs in the eighth inning, Ron Gardenhire went to a right-hander that wasn't Burton. Instead, against a very strikeout prone Mark Reynolds, Gardy went with the non-strikeout pitcher Anthony Swarzak. It's easy to double guess a manager's decision after the fact, but if a closer can't get four outs then he's probably not your guy.
Swarzak did strike out the last batter of the eighth. He also struck out the side in the ninth. But in the bottom of the eighth, before that first strikeout and with runners on second and third, Reynolds dropped a flare in front of Denard Span for a go ahead, two-run single. Once again the Twins were unable to counter, in spite of Josh Willingham leading off the bottom of the inning with a well-earned ten pitch walk and Justin Morneau following him up with a single. Off of a southpaw.
Baltimore made mistakes, but they also made things happen. It's a disappointing ending to a series that started out looking so promising, but that's what happens when your team really isn't that competitive. While it will certainly be easy to pin this one on Gardy, and he should shoulder part of the blame, the bullpen was in flames before the move to Swarzak. Duensing and Burnett sunk the Twins' lead, and the offense couldn't muster a run when put in a prime position to do so.