ARLINGTON -- Manager Ron Gardenhire lamented some defensive miscues by his club following Monday's contest against the Rangers, when the Twins were nearly no-hit. On Tuesday night, the Twins were left to ponder whether another defensive blunder wound up being the difference in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington. In a series featuring two teams currently in first place in their respective divisions, there is already the feeling of October baseball surrounding these contests. These victories are not only important in terms of the Twins' and Rangers' own pennant races, but also as to which teams they might face if they can make it to the postseason.
But in contests where the intensity seems to be stepped up a notch, so too is the cost when mistakes are made. The game was tied at 2 in the fourth inning thanks to Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton leading off the inning by belting the first pitch from Carl Pavano deep to center field. Despite the leadoff homer, Pavano seemed to be working his way out of the inning, recording two quick outs, before trouble struck. Bengie Molina hit a fly ball to right-center field that looked like it should have been the third out of the inning. Instead, it managed to fall in without either center fielder Denard Span or right fielder Jason Kubel catching it. As the play unfolded, it appeared that Kubel was calling for the ball as Span charged in from center field. But when Span neared Kubel, as he was slowing down, Kubel himself stopped with his arm still outstretched as the ball carried over the top of his glove and fell in for a hit. "I called for it and then I stopped," Kubel said. "I just got scared or something, I don't know." Molina wound up with a double on the play, and the extra out proved costly. The Rangers catcher advanced to third on an infield single, and then scored on Andres Blanco's ground-rule double to center field to give Texas a 3-2 lead. "We missed a play out in the outfield, and it ended up costing us again," Gardenhire said. "That's the difference in the ballgame. You can't keep shooting yourself in the foot." Center fielders normally have the first say when it comes to any ball hit to the outfield, but understandably, Span said that he backed off when Kubel waved him off early in the pursuit of the ball. Still, it ended up being another missed defensive play that resulted in the Twins giving the Rangers a chance to extend the inning. "We're playing a good team," Span said. "Whenever you give them extra outs, a good team is going to capitalize on that. We know we can't do that when we are playing playoff-caliber teams. Hopefully this is a rehearsal for the playoffs. If we get there, we can't do that." Despite the miscue, the Twins still had an opportunity to take back the lead. Trailing by one run at the start of the seventh, Minnesota tallied back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with no outs. Alexi Casilla followed by crushing a double off the right-field wall to tie the game at 3 and place the Twins in a pretty cushy position with two on, no outs and the go-ahead run at third base. But they weren't able to take advantage. Catcher Drew Butera lined out to third base for the first out of the inning. And then came a little bit of bad luck. Left-hander Darren Oliver entered for the Rangers and got Span to hit a tapper to first base. Valencia headed for home, causing first baseman Mitch Moreland to throw toward the plate. Home-plate umpire Jim Wolf called Valencia out as he slid, but replays appeared to show that he touched home plate before receiving the tag from catcher Molina. "Their first baseman made [a great] play on that ball," Gardenhire said. "Not an easy play, a short-hop backhand and came up and made a throw. I don't know what replays showed. Some of them showed he was safe, some of them showed he was out. It was a close play at home plate." That left the game still tied for Pavano entering the bottom of the seventh. But while the Twins weren't able to capitalize on their scoring opportunity, the Rangers managed to do just that. With one out in the seventh, Blanco hit a ground-rule double to left field that bounced off the chalk. Following a two-out walk to Andrus, Michael Young stepped to the plate in a big situation for Texas. And the hitter who has come through so many times did so again, lining a single into left field to plate the go-ahead run for Texas. "They are a club that plays the game hard and plays the game the right way," Young said of the Twins. "That's why they have league-wide respect. But we're a confident group. We like the style of baseball we play -- we've just got to stick with it against them." Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who was pitching for a third consecutive game, earned his 32nd save. Feliz hit pinch-hitter Jim Thome with two outs in the ninth. With J.J. Hardy still bothered by a sore wrist, Gardenhire chose to keep him on the bench and sent Matt Tolbert to the plate to hit for Butera. Tolbert struck out looking to end the contest. Pavano tossed his fifth complete game of the season, giving up the four runs on eight hits in eight innings, and lost back-to-back starts for the first time since May. "They put some good swings on some balls and I beat myself," Pavano said. "The home run was a good pitch, but other than that, I gave up hits with two outs. That's the ballgame right there." The loss dropped the Twins' lead in the American League Central to 3 1/2 games after the White Sox defeated the Orioles, 7-5. And at a time when every game seems to be important for Minnesota, seeing miscues end up being costly certainly hurts a little more. "It's not normal; we pride ourselves on catching the ball," Gardenhire said. "You miss a play and Pavano was going along pretty good and we end up costing ourselves [a run] in that inning. That's the difference in the ballgame."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.