CHICAGO -- Through 17 less-than-perfect White Sox games this season, the team's bullpen stood as its one immovable force.
This current seven-man relief crew posted a 1.63 ERA and .177 opponents' average against entering Sunday's series finale against the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field, which stood as No. 1 in the American League for both categories.
But even the South Siders' steadiest of contributors to date wilted in Minnesota's 5-3 victory.
Staked to a 2-1 lead entering the seventh, the trio of Matt Lindstrom, Donnie Veal and Jesse Crain allowed four runs in the frame in helping the Twins (8-7) to a sweep of the abbreviated two-game series. The White Sox (7-11) have lost three straight and nine of their last 12 games, falling to 1-3 in two-run games after the bullpen's rare shortcomings.
"I hope so," said Lindstrom, when asked if the three runs he was charged with in two-thirds of an inning were just a rare mishap. "It probably wasn't the right day to do that, have a blip."
"I'm not worried about the bullpen," White Sox right fielder Alex Rios said. "We have a pretty strong bullpen and they've been doing what they have to do. They've been coming in aggressively and getting guys out. Of course they are not going to do that every day."
The free pass hurt Lindstrom and Veal, with Lindstrom (1-1) walking Trevor Plouffe to open the seventh and Veal walking Joe Mauer on four pitches to load the bases with two outs after an Aaron Hicks' single off Lindstrom tied the game. Veal faced two batters over the two games against the Twins, and the southpaw walked both of them.
"Any time you walk the leadoff guy, you are asking for trouble," said Lindstrom, adding that his ball had extra sink Sunday and was hard to control.
"It's just one of those where every guy has a walk or you give them that opportunity, give them that little life by putting that guy on," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his bullpen's wild streak. "It's one of those where they usually come through."
Crain was brought in to face the right-handed-hitting Josh Willingham after the Veal free pass, and Willingham drove a first-pitch slider to the right-center-field wall for a bases-clearing double.
Sixteen Twins hitters went to the plate over the first five innings. They sent 15 men to the plate over the sixth and seventh, when they scored all five of their runs.
While the bullpen faltered on this occasion, the White Sox offense continued to provide the pitchers with very little room to work. They scored two runs off Twins starter Scott Diamond (1-1) over six innings, and got help from the Minnesota defense on both occasions.
Alejandro De Aza reached to open the fourth on a double that Willingham misplayed in left and then had hit off his glove. De Aza alertly moved to third on a Diamond wild pitch and came home on Jeff Keppinger's groundout.
De Aza got things going in the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie by reaching on a bunt single back to the mound and then racing all the way to third on Diamond's wild throw over the head of second baseman Jamey Carroll covering first. Keppinger's sacrifice fly scored De Aza.
Adam Dunn accounted for the third run with a solo shot to straightaway center leading off the seventh. Dunn connected on a 1-2 pitch from Josh Roenicke and broke a career-worst 0-for-31 funk in the process. Dunn has seven hits this season, of which three are homers, and is 7-for-65 overall.
That 402-foot blast from Dunn was the last White Sox hitter to reach base. Roenicke, Jared Burton and Glen Perkins (fifth save) set down the last nine, striking out five.
"You don't want to keep losing games like this, but we are not worried," Rios said. "We are a talented team and we're going to be able to compete in this division and in all the divisions. I believe that we just have to put a few good at-bats together and we'll be fine. We'll get out of this."
"If this was August and we had a lead on these guys, I'd love it," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire of the shortened sweep. "But it's early. It's only two games. We've seen a lot of things happen at this ballpark. We've had some success, but we've also been whacked here pretty good."
After losing his first three starts of 2013, Gavin Floyd allowed one run on three hits over six innings and didn't allow a hit until Willingham's one-out single in the fourth. He walked three and fanned six, pitching out of a based-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth, with just one run scoring on Justin Morneau's bases-loaded walk with two outs.
Floyd became the second straight hard-luck White Sox starting pitcher with a quality start and a no-decision, as the bullpen joined the offense's struggles in this 18-game season-opening rut.
"These guys are human. It's going to happen on occasion," Ventura said. "It's unfortunate. It's one of those where you go through a rut and you're just trying to get out of it. You've just got to keep your nose buried in it and stay strong."
"Ultimately, you want to win as a team," said Floyd, who threw 96 pitches. "It's a bittersweet thing. You're happy that you threw well, but unhappy that we lost."