Twins lose to Rockies 5-4 as late rally falls short

Louie Varland has rarely pitched better than he did on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Caleb Thielbar has maybe never been worse.

Varland, the North St. Paul native, charged back into the big leagues with five shutout innings, giving up only one hit and striking out three. But Richfield native Thielbar faced four batters and each of them scored, sending the Twins to a 5-4 loss to the Rockies at Target Field.

The loss ended the Twins' winning streak at two games, and put them in jeopardy of losing a series to the Rockies for only the third time in the teams' history.

Varland, making a one-day appearance on the Twins roster to give the starting rotation an extra day off, served up his best outing of the season by far, needing only 63 pitches to rip through the Rockies' lineup for five innings. In doing so, he shaved more than two runs off his ERA, though it still stands at 7.06 due to four disastrous April starts that got him demoted to Class AAA.

But Twins manager Rocco Baldelli decided not to allow Varland to face Colorado hitters for a third time and summoned Thielbar to face the top of the Rockies' order.

It didn't go well.

Charlie Blackmon ripped a fastball 102 mph into right field for a single. Brenton Doyle took a fastball a foot above the strike zone for a nine-pitch walk. And Ezequiel Tovar blasted a belt-high fastball 107 mph into the bleachers in left-center, a three-run homer. Left in to face lefthanded Ryan McMahon, Thielbar left a low fastball over the middle of the plate, and it bounced off the wall in right field for a double.

Cole Sands replaced Thielbar, and McMahon eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Toglia. That matched Thielbar's career-high of four runs allowed in an outing, and the first one of those in which he didn't retire a batter. Thielbar's ERA, now 7.47, actually climbed higher than Varland's.

The Twins didn't have much better luck against former righthander Cal Quantrill, the former Guardian who now owns a 6-0 career record in a dozen starts against Minnesota, and 3-0 in Target Field. Quantrill allowed only three hits, all singles, over six scoreless innings, striking out five. No Twin ever reached third base against Quantrill, the only Rockies starter with a winning record (6-4).

But once Quantrill departed, home runs helped the Twins close the gap. Byron Buxton, after fouling off four pitches, crushed a 100-mph fastball from reliever Victor Vodnik halfway up the vines beyond the center field fence. The 439-foot, two-run home run was Buxton's fourth of the year and first since May 21.

And Carlos Santana, whose baserunning mistake killed a potential rally in the seventh inning — he rounded second base on Jose Miranda's long fly ball to left, and couldn't retreat to first base before the Rockies doubled him up — hammered his 10th homer into the right-field seats with two outs in the ninth inning.

But it wasn't enough to close the gap completely, because McMahon had padded Colorado's lead with a home run of his own in the seventh inning, a long fly ball to right off Sands.