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Twins can’t escape jam, fall victim to Cleveland’s big inning

Apr 20, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Taylor Rogers was a strike away from fanning the Cleveland Indians’ No. 3 hitter, Michael Brantley, and getting an out away from avoiding a fatal seventh inning.

Instead, as Rogers tried to avoid a pitch over the middle of the plate, an 0-2 count turned into a bases-loaded walk, which gave the Indians the go-ahead run in their 6-2 victory over the Twins on Thursday afternoon at Target Field.

Rogers was promptly removed for Matt Belisle, who made the same mistake two batters later, walking in a fourth Indians run as the Twins’ bullpen imploded against a talented team, wasting another quality start from the staff’s ace, Ervin Santana.

The bullpen allowed four runs over the final three innings, while the Twins bats fell quiet again as their losing streak increased to four games and their record fell below .500 for the first time this season.

Just once in their past six games have the Twins (7-8) plated more than four runs.

“We’re not scoring enough,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re having trouble putting runs on the board. When you get a lead late, you want to try to win it.”

For six innings, all was fine for the Twins, even if the ballpark was mostly empty for a chilly midweek matinee that produced a paid attendance of 17,339 but an actual one a fraction of that.

Their decision to start Santana following Wednesday’s rainout had worked to plan, and he ran his scoreless innings streak, one that dated to Opening Day, to 22 before the Indians bested him in the fifth.

But even if Santana struggled to throw his usually dominant slider and didn’t have the brilliance he displayed Saturday in a one-hit shutout of the White Sox, he avoided trouble and set the Twins up for victory, exiting with a 2-1 lead.

Instead, the bullpen trio of Tyler Duffy, Rogers and Belisle allowed three runs on three hits and three walks in the seventh, wasting Santana’s productive start. Two innings later, Ryan Pressly was tagged for a pair of runs on a day the bullpen would soon like to forget.

“We all know that games like this will happen,” Rogers said. “We’re human, but we’ll come back with the right mind-set tomorrow and learn from what happened today.”

With a 1-2 count against Brantley, Rogers threw three consecutive fastballs inside. Brantley took all three for balls and the Indians took a lead they didn’t relinquish via his walk.

“Credit him, but it’s my fault for not executing the pitch,” Rogers said. “I also didn’t want to leave it over the middle with the bases loaded, but I just couldn’t catch the corner. The last one I thought was pretty close, but not close enough.”

With a late lead, Indians manager Terry Francona used five pitchers the final three innings to yield his best possible matchups, which kept a slumping Twins lineup from crossing the plate.

The Twins’ lone productive inning was the fourth when Joe Mauer, in his 53rd at-bat of the season, knocked his first extra-base hit, a leadoff double. Two batters later, Max Kepler singled, and both scored in the inning, Mauer via major league baseball’s first bases-loaded balk since 2012.

But it came on a day the Twins managed only four hits, scattered over three innings.

Their slump is part of the reason the Twins are 2-7 in their past nine games.

“We’ve got to get bigger hits with guys in scoring positions,” Brian Dozier said. “We’re taking good at-bats with guys on base. They’ll start falling. We’re 15 games in. I’m not worried about it.”

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.