At least the shellackings are over well before the ninth inning.
A night after handing the Twins their second double-digit losing margin in the span of a week, the American League Central Division’s worst team gave Minnesota an unneeded reminder that the close ones hurt, too.
Three well-hit balls in the ninth inning of a 4-3 defeat — the Twins’ 10th in their last 13 outings — could’ve sparked a late rally Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field. All three led to outs. Minnesota put runners at the corners with no outs in the seventh. One run came home to score. In the sixth, Pedro Florimon flew out the center field with the bases loaded.
“A tough one for us,” manager Ron Gardenhire called it, “because the guys were into it pretty good.”
As into it as a team that’s now 64-86 and in danger of letting the White Sox (60-91) pass it for the awkward achievement of fourth place in the division can be, that is. Chicago had demoralized the Twins the night before, scoring seven runs in the first inning of a 12-1 victory reminiscent of Minnesota’s 18-3 embarrassment last Wednesday.
With a chance to even their second-to-last road series of an excruciating season, the same old scars plagued them further.
Mike Pelfrey’s freefall persisted, as he took his fifth loss in a row (the previous one came in that Oakland blowout). Minnesota left 10 runners on base and went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Three White Sox errors weren’t enough for the Twins to break a five-game losing streak against Chicago.
Almost every television camera shot of Gardenhire showed a man continually disgruntled, often swiping a big, burly hand over his goateed face in disbelief.
An all-too-recognizable sight.
The White Sox pulled ahead in the fifth inning via Alexei Ramirez’s RBI double to left field. The shortstop came in hitting .394 against the Twins with 13 RBI — five more than he’d laced against any other team.
On the next pitch from Pelfrey, a 79-mph curveball, Dayan Viciedo doubled Chicago’s newfound advantage with a soft line drive to left. Paul Konerko did the same exact thing two batters later, and Gardenhire yanked Pelfrey after 4 1/3 innings.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound righty fell to 5-13 and saw his ERA spike a bit to 5.34. The White Sox pounded out nine hits and three earned runs against him Tuesday.
Pelfrey threw 38 pitches in a one-run second inning and once again wasn’t anywhere near the efficiency he needs to be, Gardenhire said.
“I think we saw the first couple innings were a long process and the pace wasn’t going very good,” Gardenhire said. “That’s a lot of pitches, and the game just had no pace to it again. That’s the problem. I think he’s a little disappointed in that, too.”
But Minnesota’s bullpen kept it close enough for the Twins to strike back.
Per the usual, all for naught.
The Twins’ best chance came in the top of the seventh frame after an RBI single from Trevor Plouffe and a run-scoring ground ball by Oswaldo Arcia brought them within 4-3. A fielding error by Paul Konerko allowed Ryan Doumit to reach first and moved Alex Presley — pinch-hitting for Arcia, who’d reached on an error — to third with one out.
Josh Willingham strikeout.
Josmil Pinto ground-out to third. Inning over.
The ninth was even tougher for Minnesota to stomach. Brian Dozier hit a rocket down the third-base line. Snagged by third baseman Marcus Semien.
Plouffe gave an Addison Reed fastball a ride toward deep center field. Alejandro De Aza reached above the wall to catch it.
Presley hit as hard of a shot as he has since being traded from Pittsburgh on Aug. 31 toward the gap between second and third. Twins antagonist that he is, Ramirez made a highlight-reel diving catch to end the game.
“We had big chances there,” Gardenhire said.
Jose Quintana (8-6, 3.49 ERA) pitched six effective innings to earn the victory, working around eight hits to allow just one run.
Minnesota will try and avoid a series sweep Wednesday at 1:10 p.m. when Scott Diamond matches up with John Danks. The Twins then travel to Oakland for a four-game set, their last away from Target Field this season.