It’s days like this that sullied the Twins’ 2013 season weeks ago.
Neither Minnesota nor Cleveland played anything close to textbook baseball Sunday at Progressive Field. Both had their managers chomping wads of Dubble Bubble more aggressively than normal as they stood inside dugouts full of shaking heads.
Afterward, Indians first baseman Nick Swisher shook his, too, still processing the fact his team had won in spite of four errors, a few other fielding gaffes and a mostly miserable day batting with runners on base.
“It’s not always pretty,” Swisher said, “but somehow, we find a way to get it done. We’ve got a scrappy squad over here.”
It’s that group sitting in position for an American League Wild Card bid and maybe even a Central Division pennant that somehow managed to eke out a 3-1 victory.
The one battling with Chicago to stay out of the Central cellar squandered every opportunity to take advantage.
“I don’t know who was supposed to win the game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I know they won it with a couple hits, but I don’t know who was supposed to win it. It sounds like we were; you make four errors, you’re not supposed to win.”
Minnesota (57-72) found a way to outdo its division rival’s ineptitude, continuing a yearlong trend of untimely hitting. The AL’s worst hitting team with runners in scoring position went 3-for-19 in that scenario, struck out 12 times and left 13 runners on base.
It was the fifth time the Twins stranded 13 or more this season.
“They’re trying, maybe trying too hard,” Gardenhire said. “Who knows?
“That’s been our Achilles heel, as they say. We’ve left a lot of men out there. Runners in scoring position hasn’t been a very good stat for us. We’ve been terrible.” Each Indians error helped shift a Minnesota runner to second or third base. None of them scored.
Batting .158 since the All-Star break, third baseman Trevor Plouffe had the most chances to capitalize. He went 0-for-5, lining out to third with the bases loaded in the fifth and striking out swinging with runners at the corners in the seventh.
He represented the tying run with two outs in the ninth but watched closer Chris Perez’s slider drop into the zone and seal a 2-1 series win for Cleveland and the Twins’ seventh loss in their past 10 outings.
An errant pickoff throw by Indians starter Scott Kazmir — who gave up one run on seven hits and struck out eight batters — in the fifth allowed Brian Dozier to take third. The Twins second baseman benefited from a similar snafu by reliever Cody Allen in the seventh, moving to second then to third on a Doug Bernier single.
But Josh Willingham popped out to second base, and Allen struck out Ryan Doumit and Plouffe to end the inning.
“We missed a lot of opportunities,” Gardenhire said. “They made a lot of mistakes, and we couldn’t make them pay for it, and that’s not the norm in the game. Normally, you make four errors and put people on like they did — we should be able to capitalize on it.”
Bernier’s RBI bunt single earlier in the fifth tied the score at 1. It would remain a stalemate until Cleveland No. 9 hitter Drew Stubbs launched a 94-mph Jared Burton fastball into the center-field seats with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. Swisher followed up with an RBI single, the last three straight two-out hits yielded by Burton.
It was about the only thing that went right for Swisher. The New York Yankees transplant couldn’t collect two bunts toward first base by Bernier (2-for-5 with an RBI), the first of which scored Clete Thomas from third.
“Things aren’t always gonna go your way,” said Swisher, who’s batting .140 against Twins pitching this season. “Sometimes, you’ve got to pull those strings, really get it together and keep things going.”
A fourth-inning Asdrubal Cabrera error put Plouffe on second and Willingham on third with one out, but Wilkin Ramirez flew out to Stubbs in right field, and Chris Colabello struck out swinging.
Minnesota had yet another opportunity in the eighth when second baseman Jason Kipnis dropped a Morneau line drive. Kipnis then allowed Florimon to single up the middle when he tried to force out Morneau at second himself rather than flip to a covering Cabrera.
Dozier popped out to short three pitches later.
Save for Stubbs’ big swing, the Indians (71-59) were equally ineffective at the plate, leaving 12 runners on base. Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey appeared well on his way to a quality start when he struck out three of the first four batters he faced but went on to walk six batters and leave the mound after five innings.
Allowing only two hits, he wasn’t saddled with the loss — that went to Burton (2-7, 3.16 ERA), while Joe Smith (5-1, 2.49) earned the win.
“He competed,” Gardenhire said of Pelfrey. “The rest of the guys competed out there. We got out of just as much as (Cleveland) got out of.”
Finishing up a stretch of 27 games in 27 days, the Twins enjoy their first day off since Aug. 8 on Monday, then open a three-game home series against Kansas City on Tuesday.