Sure enough, the Tribe first baseman slapped a walk-off single up the middle, and the Twins fell short of a three-game sweep in a 4-3 loss beside Lake Erie at Progressive Field.
"I was 'this close' to bringing Willingham in, but that guy hits the ball everywhere," Gardenhire said. "He hits them this way, that way. So it's hard to sit there and say you can do it. If I would've done it, he probably would've hit it right to him."
The loss -- a peculiar blend of missed opportunities and bizarre plays -- didn't sit well with Gardenhire, who referred to the affair as a "bummer" on several occasions.
Trevor Plouffe was the only Twins batter to record a hit after the fifth inning. Aside from his harmless single in the ninth, Plouffe sailed a go-ahead homer high into the bright September sky in the sixth. The ball disappeared into the sun and wispy, white clouds hovering above, causing Michael Brantley to lose track of it. As Plouffe rounded first, the ball landed beyond the fence, about 25 feet to the left of the Tribe center fielder. Plouffe paused his trek around the bases, thinking that Brantley had completed the catch.
"Brantley was fighting the sun," Gardenhire said. "It looked like he caught it. I thought he had it, but he was really just ducking from the sun."
Plouffe's home run trot likely won't be featured on any instructional videos. It may make a cameo on a few blooper reels, though.
"When I hit it, I thought I got it," said Plouffe, who has a career-high 23 homers. "Then I lost sight of the ball and I saw Brantley go back and put his glove up and I said, 'I guess I didn't get it.' Then I started walking back and no one was moving, so I looked around and [the umpire was motioning for a home run], so I said, 'Oh, all right.' So that was a low-to-high emotion at that point in the game."
The long ball provided the Twins a temporary one-run edge, but the Indians erased their deficit in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI base knock from Jack Hannahan. The game remained deadlocked until the 10th, thanks to strong showings from both bullpens.
Esmerling Vasquez fell one out shy of a quality start. The right-hander yielded three runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings in his latest attempt to showcase his ability for a spot on next season's pitching staff.
"I felt much better than I did the last couple of times," said Vasquez, now 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts. "I struggled a little bit in the fourth inning, but I felt great. I made some good pitches after that."
The Twins staked Vasquez to a lead in the fourth when Ben Revere singled, stole second base, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch. In the fifth, shortstop Pedro Florimon scored from first on Denard Span's double that bounced off the tarp in foul territory in short left field and caromed back toward the infield.
Despite the defeat, the Twins still took two of three in the series and finished the season with a 12-6 mark against their American League Central counterparts. The loss did push Minnesota back into a tie with Cleveland for fourth place in the division.
"We don't want to end up in last place, but we don't want to be where we're at, regardless," Plouffe said. "If we're in last or we're in fourth, that's not a successful season for us. The only thing we can do is continue to fight."
The Twins will have a chance to factor into the race for the postseason, though in the role of spoiler. Minnesota embarks on three-game trip to Detroit before returning to the Twin Cities for its final homestand, a six-game stretch against the Tigers and Yankees, two AL rivals vying for postseason inclusion. Regardless of the opponent, the Twins have one goal in mind.
"We're in a battle," Plouffe said. "There is no give-up in us. ... We're not out there really trying to play spoiler, we're just out there trying to win games."