J.J. Hardy is one of the players Baltimore manager Buck Showalter knows he can lean on when things get tough.
The Orioles are having a pretty hard time lately, and for one of the few times in Hardy's season and a half in Baltimore, the steady shortstop faltered in a big moment.
Hardy's throwing error in the seventh inning led to two runs that proved to be the difference in a 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
"It's frustrating, for sure," Hardy said. "Whenever defense or pitching lets us down, or even hitting, it's frustrating."
The game was tied with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Jamey Carroll and Denard Span reached on back-to-back singles. Hardy's errant throw got past Mark Reynolds at first base on a play that was ruled a hit for Span and an error that allowed Carroll to advance to third.
"It was a tough play," said Hardy, who committed just his fifth error of the season. "Denard's fast. I didn't get a good grip on it and just tried to get it over there."
With new life, Ben Revere's bloop single gave the Twins a 5-4 lead and Mauer followed with a single that tailed just past a diving Hardy's glove to make it 6-4.
Showalter wasn't about to fault Hardy, a player the manager has high respect for after watching his work ethic and production since he arrived in Baltimore.
"It was a play that Mark usually makes," Showalter said. "J.J.'s one of the best shortstops in baseball. He made a lot of plays tonight a lot of guys don't make."
Adam Jones hit a three-run homer for Baltimore, but Zach Britton gave up four runs on six hits with a career-high six walks in four innings as the O's dropped their third in a row to fall 10 games behind the Yankees in the AL East.
Jones was at the plate with a runner on in the ninth, but Jared Burton struck him out for his third save.
Joe Mauer had three hits and an RBI for the Twins, who got 4 2-3 innings of scoreless relief from their bullpen to rally from a 4-1 deficit.
Alex Burnett (3-2) pitched an inning for the win and Luis Ayala (2-3) gave up two runs on five hits in 2 2-3 innings for the loss.
Jeff Gray, Tyler Robertson, Burnett and Glen Perkins combined to get the ball to Burton after a surprising pitching duel between Britton and Samuel Deduno fizzled quickly in the fifth.
Britton was making his season debut after a long road of recovery from shoulder problems. He had platelet-rich plasma therapy in March and didn't start pitching in the minor leagues until being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on June 6.
Britton gave up a run on a double by Jamey Carroll that tied the game in the fourth inning and was knocked out of the game in the fifth after back-to-back walks loaded the bases with nobody out. Doumit followed with a two-run single off of Ayala and Brian Dozier's RBI single tied the game at 4.
"Six walks is absolutely unacceptable," Britton said. "There's no way that should happen. I put Ayala in a tough spot and he did the best he could."
Things looked good for the Orioles early when Nick Markakis, who had three hits, scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead in the first inning and Jones hit a three-run blast to make it 4-1 in the fifth.
But Britton couldn't hold it.
"It was really frustrating," Britton said. "I expect to go deep in games. We put up a four-spot and I have to go out and attack those guys."
Deduno gave up four runs — three earned — on six hits with five walks and five strikeouts in 4 1-3 innings.
"We just need to put it back together," Hardy said. "It's been a rough couple of games. We need to turn it around."
NOTES: The Orioles had a web gem in the eighth when Reynolds tracked a foul ball back toward the seats and made the catch as he tumbled into the stands to retire Dozier. ... Baltimore fell to 16-4 when Jones homers. ... Showalter said they wouldn't rush 2B Brian Roberts' decision on whether to have surgery to repair a groin injury that put the oft-injured Roberts on the DL on July 3. "It's a pretty serious decision," Showalter said. "Surgery takes him out for the year." ... The Twins will go to LHP Francisco Liriano (3-8, 4.93) on Wednesday night in the third gamer of the series. Liriano has been superb since rejoining the rotation and struck out 15 in his previous start. He'll face Orioles RHP Tommy Hunter (3-4, 6.11), who is being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to make the start.