MINNEAPOLIS – Josh Willingham settled under a lazy pop fly from Jesus Montero, nonchalantly stretching his glove out to bring in out No. 2 of the sixth inning.
But then the ball inexplicably popped out of the left fielder's glove and fell to the grass, giving the Mariners a jolt that they needed. And with that, the game slipped through the Minnesota Twins' fingers, as well.
Willingham's blunder contributed to a four-run sixth inning for the Mariners that gave them enough of a cushion to withstand his 33rd homer of the season in a 5-4 victory over the Twins on Thursday.
"Just missed it," Willingham said, bluntly. "Just missed the ball."
The Twins have been doing that all season long. They've lost 17 of their last 21 games and seem to find new ways to do it every day. They led 2-1 heading into the sixth inning on Thursday and Brian Duensing (3-10) left the game after giving up a sacrifice fly to Kyle Seager that tied the game.
Dustin Ackley scored when Willingham dropped the ball and Trayvon Robinson followed three batters later with a two-out, two-run single for a 5-2 lead.
"We had chances even after that, but normally an error kills you," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And in that case it cost us some runs."
It was unfortunate for Willingham, who has enjoyed a career season in his first year in Minnesota. He is two homers away from becoming the first Twins player to hit at least 35 in a season since Harmon Killebrew in 1970 and his 96 RBIs are third in the American League. His two-run homer in the eighth made it 5-4, but it wasn't quite enough.
"Like I said the other night, I don't really care how we lose," Willingham said. "Just the fact that we're not getting it done and not getting Ws is frustrating."
Duensing gave up four runs — three earned — on four hits in 5 1-3 innings and Alexi Casilla had two hits and two superb plays at second base for the Twins.
But one night after their struggling offense erupted in a 10-0 victory, the Twins were put on ice by Blake Beavan (9-8). They scored two runs in the first inning off the right-hander, but Beavan retired 14 of the last 15 hitters he faced.
He scattered five hits, walked two and struck out one.
The Twins had one more chance in the ninth when Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen couldn't get control of his fastball. He walked Ryan Doumit and Trevor Plouffe, and the Twins had runners on the corners and one out.
But Pedro Florimon struck out looking and Ben Revere grounded out to first base to end the game.
"It's frustrating and it's disappointing at the same time," Duensing said. "We feel we've got a good team, a good offense and pitching and everything, but we just can't quite put it together, it seems like."
Duensing could be headed back to the bullpen soon, but Gardenhire didn't want to talk about that possibility after the game.
"He did a nice job today," Gardenhire said. "He pitched well. He gave us a great chance to win. We'll move forward from there and we'll see where we're at."
NOTES: Twins C Joe Mauer has thrown out only six of 49 runners trying to steal this season, by far the worst percentage of his career. Manager Ron Gardenhire blamed slow slide-step deliveries by the team's pitchers. But he also said the Twins are working with Mauer on staying on the balls of his feet. He has been catching the ball flat-footed, making it harder to deliver a powerful on-target throw. ... Revere stole his 31st base of the season and pinch-runner Darin Mastroianni swiped two bags in the ninth inning. The Twins lead the AL Central with 106 steals this season. ... The Mariners will open a home series with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. RHP Kevin Millwood (4-11, 4.28) will start the opener against Dan Haren (8-10, 4.82). The Twins are headed to Kansas City, where RHP Cole De Vries (3-5, 4.68) will face Royals LHP Will Smith (4-6, 5.55).