Early edge not enough to beat Twins

Early edge not enough to beat Twins

SAN DIEGO -- Toss together a handful of fine defensive plays, a stretch of strong outings from the bullpen and just enough offense, and you essentially have what Padres outfielder Brian Giles considers the idyllic model for winning close games.

"That's how this team is built, to win the close one," Giles said.

Oddly enough, those elements Giles spoke of were on display at PETCO Park this week, the ones that helped the team make the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 and come so close to reaching the postseason again in 2007.

Only it wasn't the Padres who were making diving catches, getting clutch hits or rolling up zeroes in the bullpen -- it was the Twins, who extended the Padres' misery Thursday with a series-sweeping 4-3 victory before a crowd of 28,789.

"It's a game the last few years we [generally] win," Giles said. "We haven't been able to win any of those this year. Usually we win, 4-3, or 2-1. For one reason or another, it's not happening."

The Padres fell a season-low 16 games below .500 after wasting a three-run lead for the second time in as many days, falling to another hot team in Interleague Play, this being another one-run loss, their 15th of the season.

For what it's worth, the Padres lost 26 one-run games last season, though they also won 23 of those games. But that team consistently had better bullpen outings and an offense that, while not considered explosive by any means, still found a way to score enough runs to win more than it lost.

At their rate of current descent, the Padres (32-48) will be hard-pressed to win as many close games this season, especially given their 3-12 record against teams from the American League, with three weekend games against Seattle yet to be played.

"It's tough," said Padres starting pitcher Josh Banks, who allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings Thursday. "We've been in a lot of close games but haven't pulled through."

They certainly had their chances Thursday against the Twins (43-36), who have now won nine consecutive games. The Padres led, 3-0, following the third inning with waiver-wire wonder Banks on the mound.

But that wasn't enough, as the Twins got three hits from 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau, whose 419-foot, two-run home run to center field in the fourth inning started the Twins' comeback efforts.

While the Twins' offense got better as the game wore on, the Padres' production went the other direction for the second time in as many days. On Wednesday, the Padres had just three hits over the final seven innings in a 9-3 loss. A day later, the Padres managed three hits over the final six innings.

"We are not playing well right now," Padres manager Bud Black conceded following the game. "We have got to right this ship. We've got to play better. We've had a number of home games and haven't played well."

San Diego saw a prime opportunity slip away in the sixth inning when Minnesota pitcher Scott Baker (4-2) allowed a one-out single to Kevin Kouzmanoff followed by a double to rookie Chase Headley that sent Kouzmanoff scurrying to third base.

With the infield back and essentially conceding the tying run, Khalil Greene -- who hit a solo home run off Baker in the second inning -- grounded a ball to the left of Minnesota's third baseman, Brian Buscher.

But Kouzmanoff didn't break on contact, and his moment of hesitation proved critical as Buscher righted himself after making the play and threw home to nail Kouzmanoff. The next batter, Luke Carlin, then struck out looking to end the inning.

"I was watching him [Kouzmanoff] a couple pitches before, and it didn't look like he was going on contact," Buscher said. "I kind of knew I had time, and once I saw him stop -- that he wasn't going on contact there -- I knew I had some time. It was a tough play. I threw a tough ball to [catcher Mike Redmond], but he handled it pretty good and got him out."

Black said that he talked to Kouzmanoff in the dugout after the inning about the play and said, "We've got to do a better job of being ready for the ball, anticipating."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.