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TWINS 4, RED SOX 3

Sox get tossed around in ninth

Two errors give victory to Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- The deciding run was unearned, and for the second consecutive night, so was Minnesota's win.

''I can think of some other bad ways to lose a game," said Mike Timlin. But, in actuality, are there?

Because, there is getting beat, and there is losing, and the Sox lost for the second time in as many days last night, this time 4-3 in Minnesota's last at-bat, against a Twins team that has plated 16 runs in two games, six unearned.

Unnerving?

''I don't think I'm ready to go there," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

He'd grant you uncharacteristic. This game, one the Sox led, 3-0, after five innings, came down to the ninth, with Timlin on the mound. The leadoff man, Michael Cuddyer, grounded to Bill Mueller, whose throw reached a cruising altitude too high for the glove of first baseman Roberto Petagine. Cuddyer pulled into second on the throwing error. Nick Punto, the next hitter, pushed a bunt to the left side, where Timlin picked it up.

''Mike throws a pretty good sinker," Francona noted, wryly. But this wasn't the time or place for a throw low and with movement. The ball skipped past Tony Graffanino, who was covering first, and trickled into right field as Cuddyer scampered home to the delight of the 40,626 under the Metrodome bubble.

''There's no excuses," said the no-nonsense, full-responsibility Timlin, who sustained his second loss (4-2, 1.32 ERA). ''No bad jump. No foot slippage. I threw it away. I lost the game."

Mueller, meanwhile, did have something of an excuse. Cuddyer's ball hopped late on him. He didn't have much difficulty staying with it, but when he landed, his feet weren't aligned as he would have wanted.

''Once I jumped up, I probably came down a little too far apart," Mueller said. ''I didn't have my feet underneath me."

A night earlier, Mueller's fourth-inning throwing error allowed Michael Ryan to reach base. That began an inning in which Minnesota plated three unearned runs, pumping a 4-0 lead up to 7-0. The Sox have now allowed six unearned runs in two games after allowing five in their preceding 32 games.

The defensive miscues only highlighted the fact that the Sox had chances last night -- in the seventh and eighth innings -- to win this game.

Gabe Kapler and Johnny Damon (three hits) singled to lead off the seventh, the game tied at 3-3. Edgar Renteria (0 for 5) attempted to advance Kapler and Damon with a bunt but pushed it directly to reliever Jesse Crain, who cut down Kapler at third. Crain walked David Ortiz, loading the bases for Manny Ramirez, who's stalking Lou Gehrig's all-time grand slam record. But Ramirez grounded the first pitch he saw to Cuddyer, who began a 5-4-3, inning-ending double play.

In the eighth, Kevin Millar walked with one out and gave way to Rule 5 outfielder Adam Stern, who pinch ran. With Mueller batting, Juan Rincon threw what would have been a wild pitch, except it didn't bounce away that far. Stern hesitated and was thrown out by catcher Joe Mauer by a wide margin for the inning's second out.

''He saw something that wasn't there, tried to make something that wasn't there," Francona said.

And so, the Sox couldn't capitalize on another commendable outing by David Wells, who outpitched reigning Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, even if both had identical lines: six innings, seven hits, three runs. Wells, through five innings, had allowed only one hit -- a Shannon Stewart single in the fourth -- and hadn't walked anyone.

But the Twins caught on to -- and up to -- Wells in the sixth, when they strung together five consecutive one-out singles to score three times and tie the game. Did Wells, who threw just 88 pitches, simply tire?

''He said he didn't," Francona said. ''Before that he was as good as you're going to see. He wanted to go back out."

Wells didn't, nor did he come out postgame to discuss his evening. He was spotted in the corner of the clubhouse after the game but declined to talk through a team spokesman.

Wells, who has a 2.34 career ERA vs. Minnesota, the team against which he spun his perfect game in 1998, left with a no-decision, meaning he's still lost only once in his last 14 starts (7-1, six no-decisions).

He has been that good of late, and the Sox, most times, have been that good behind him. He entered last night with the most run support per nine innings (8.44) in baseball, most closely pursued by teammate Matt Clement (7.65). A year ago, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe led baseball in those categories, at 7.54 and 7.29 runs per game, respectively.

Early on, the Sox looked liable to put up the kind of support Wells has come to expect. Damon singled and scored in the first inning on Jason Varitek's single, one of Varitek's three hits. Graffanino (single) and Kapler (double) reached to begin the fifth and scored, Graffanino on a Damon single, Kapler on a Renteria fielder's choice. But that would be it, as Santana worked a scoreless sixth and Crain, Rincon, and Joe Nathan, the winner, helped themselves and were helped on the basepaths by the Sox.

''It's going to be good and bad, OK, medium and lukewarm, you name it," Mueller said. ''You're going to get all types throughout the year."

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