Then came the seventh inning, and a sign of just how fragile the defending AL Central champions currently are. The Twins took full advantage, using a handful of walks and well-placed singles to send the Indians to their eighth straight loss Sunday.
Carlos Gomez capped the three-run seventh against Lee with an RBI groundout, and Minnesota rallied for a 4-3 victory over Cleveland.
“I have to do a better job of damage control there, and I didn’t,” said Lee, who learned before the game he was selected for the All-Star team. “And they got a win because of it. That is totally on me right there.”
Lee (11-2) lost for the first time in nine starts, hurt by a rare lack of control in the seventh that helped the resourceful Twins put together another one of their small-ball rallies. They batted eight times that inning and hit the ball out of the infield twice.
“We’ve got a good attitude on the bench. Guys are into it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We feel like something’s going to happen eventually. We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
Since losing 12-2 to the Indians in Cleveland on June 12, the Twins are 18-3. They have swept four of their last six series. The surge looks more impressive upon examination of the recent list of losing opposing pitchers: Lee, Ben Sheets, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson.
“It definitely proves we can hit. We can score runs against anybody,” said Glen Perkins (5-2), the latest beneficiary of the uptick in offense.
Perkins, who hasn’t lost in seven starts since May 30, has been one of Minnesota’s most consistent starters. The left-hander has allowed three runs or less in his last six appearances.
Lee needed 37 pitches to finish the seventh.
He walked two, including Denard Span with the bases loaded, and wasted a 3-1 lead cushioned by Jhonny Peralta’s two-run homer in the sixth. Lee had issued just 17 walks in 111 2-3 innings all season before Sunday.
“When you’re going through stretches like we’re going through right now, that’s usually the way it works,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Until Span started the sixth with a triple, the only hits by the Twins didn’t leave the infield—a popped-up bunt by Alexi Casilla that just cleared Lee’s head and a grounder that Gomez beat out, drawing a brief argument about the call from Wedge.
Lee struck out Gomez after Span’s triple and traded an out for a run when Casilla hit a grounder to shortstop, still taking a 3-1 lead into the seventh.
But with one out, Craig Monroe walked. Delmon Young reached on an infield single when third baseman Andy Marte lost the ball trying to pull it from his glove after a diving stop and a spin move left him on the ground.
Brendan Harris followed with a single to load the bases, and Nick Punto pulled the Twins within one with his base hit on a 3-1 pitch. Lee went to a 3-1 count again on Span, and ball four tied the game. Gomez gave Minnesota its first lead on his groundout to shortstop.
“I try not to look at the name of the back of the jersey,” Span said. “They’ve got to throw strikes just like anybody else, whether down in the minor leagues or up here.”
Lee was critical of himself, especially for the bases-loaded walk to Span, but he still found a way to be optimistic.
“I think we can turn it around,” he said. “It’s just going to take everybody playing the game the right way.”
The Indians are off Monday, a welcome respite after a miserable weekend made worse by the uncertainty of C.C. Sabathia’s status amid trade talks the team is having regarding the big left-hander.
“They need to get away from it, give themselves a break,” Wedge said. “Obviously, it was a very tough road trip. We have a lot going on right now. Hopefully, with the good off day we can put a lot of this behind us and take a positive step forward.”
Twenty-four of the Twins’ 50 wins have come after they fell behind. … Injured Indians starter Fausto Carmona threw a strong bullpen session of 35 pitches before the game, and he’s set for 50 pitches Tuesday as he progresses toward a return in the second half. … Casilla stretched his hitting streak to 13 games. … Kelly Shoppach has hit well as the Indians’ regular catcher with Victor Martinez on the DL. He’s batting .310 (22-for-71) with eight doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs in 21 games since Martinez’s injury in the middle of June, but Wedge said the team hasn’t talked about moving Martinez to 1B once he’s healthy. The Indians are still evaluating Shoppach and his ability to play close to every day.