ST. PETERSBURG -- The Twins saw another close game get away from them, another late rally come up short, another strikeout-riddled offensive performance, and ultimately, another disheartening loss.
Mike Pelfrey surrendered back-to-back homers to Luke Scott and Evan Longoria in the sixth, and after turning a three-run game into a one-run deficit in the eighth, the Twins left the tying run stranded at second as they fell, 4-3, to the Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon. This week marked the first time Minnesota has been on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at Tampa Bay since Aug. 10-13, 2001.
The Twins have now lost five straight, 11 of their last 12 and 16 of 20 dating back to June 21. Since June 30, Minnesota has hit .225, averaged 3.67 runs per game and pitched to a 5.91 ERA. Their ninth straight loss to the Rays put their record at 37-52 heading into their final series before the All-Star break.
The mood inside the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field was one of disappointment.
"The only thing that's fun in this game is winning. Obviously, we're not doing a whole lot of that right now," Pelfrey said. "We need to try to keep it loose and go out there and continue to have fun. At the end of the day, it stinks, because we haven't been winning a lot of games."
With that said, the Twins had to acknowledge that in this particular series, they simply came up against a streaking Rays club. Tampa Bay has won eight straight, the longest active winning streak in the Majors, and 12 of 13.
"That pitching staff over there is unbelievable," Pelfrey said. "It's almost like we ran into a buzz saw with those guys."
It would appear everything is breaking right for the Rays, and that was evident in the way they scored their first run off Pelfrey in the third inning: three straight singles -- none of them hit hard -- by Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers.
"I said, 'Hey, when they're on a seven-game win streak and we've lost 10 of whatever, that's what happens,'" Pelfrey said. "That's the kind of stuff that just goes their way."
Of course, as Pelfrey admitted, he didn't help his own cause by giving up the back-to-back long balls on bad pitches to Scott and Longoria in the sixth. Not only did the two solo shots tarnish what had otherwise been a strong six-inning outing for Pelfrey, it effectively erased whatever momentum Minnesota had established at that point.
The Twins had just broken up Matt Moore's no-hitter and tied the game in the top of the sixth, when Brian Dozier doubled down the left-field line and scored on Jamey Carroll's single to center.
Moore had been untouchable before that, carrying a perfect game through 3 2/3 innings and a no-hitter with two outs in the sixth. Fittingly, he was added to the American League All-Star team immediately after the game.
"Today, everything looked right. That was an All-Star pitching out there today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He could get even hotter for the rest of the season. It was outstanding to watch."
"He had filthy stuff," agreed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
And yet, the Twins threatened again in the eighth, with Clete Thomas drawing a walk and Pedro Florimon knocking a single to right field off Moore to chase him from the game. In came Alex Torres, who had been equally stingy in relief all season, but Ryan Doumit drew a walk to load the bases and Joe Mauer's single to left made it a one-run game.
But that was as close as Minnesota would get. With the tying run at second base, Trevor Plouffe went down swinging -- one of the Twins' 13 strikeouts on the day -- against Joel Peralta to end the rally.
"We just came up a little short there at the end," Gardenhire said. "Another day where we struck out too many times."
And in the end, another loss.
"It's tough. We're all in here for the same thing, and that's to win, and we haven't been doing that," Pelfrey said. "But there's a lot of baseball left, and we've got to find a way to keep it loose and continue to have fun. Obviously, it's tough when you're not doing it, but we've got to try to find a way. Otherwise, this long season will get a lot longer.
"I think we're all frustrated. There's not one guy that's happy with the way we're playing. This is a team game, and hopefully in the long run this will make us stronger, and we'll be able to pull together and play a lot better. There's a lot of talent in here. It's just a matter of going out and performing."