Bullpen meltdown costs Twins 7-6, 10-inning loss to Guardians

CLEVELAND — As Josh Naylor rounded first base and threw his bat high in the air, the ball he had just hit rose just to the right of the left foul post. As he sprinted past third place, he threw off his helmet and jumped into a mob of his Guardian teammates, who pelted him with ice in an orange Gatorade cooler.

At one point, Naylor grabbed the head of Cleveland manager Terry Francona — who happened to be protected with a helmet — and headbutted him with glee over his two-run walkoff homer in the 10th inning for a 7-6 win over the Twins On Wednesday

Somewhere unseen in the guest dugout or clubhouse was twin aide Emilio Pagan, who was also likely banging his head on a hard surface in frustration — either metaphorically or literally.

Pagan was pivotal again for a late-game meltdown as the Twins gave up a 6-3 lead at Progressive Field in game ten. The Guardians climbed back to the Twins’ top pick in the American League Central in two games.

“I’m pretty angry. Disappointed. Letting down the team,” said Pagan. “That’s probably as simple as I can put it.”

Pagan had just botched a save the previous day and botched a two-run lead in the eighth inning as the Twins fell 3-2 in the opener of a double header. He gave up nine runs in five losses against Cleveland last week.

The Twins took their tenth-inning lead with an RBI single from pinch hitter Carlos Correa and a two-run home run from Max Kepler.

Pagan came in and took the first out only to throw a wild pitch to put the free runner in third place. He then walked Steven Kwan and dropped an RBI double to Amed Rosario.

Manager Rocco Baldelli pulled Pagan and Jharel Cotton took over Jose Ramirez and retired him. But Ryan Jeffers’ passed ball trickled in another run before Naylor’s shot.

“It was supposed to be up and down and I just fled,” Cotton told Naylor of his pitch. “Catched more, much more of the record and he made a good swing at it. …just had to make a better throw in that position. The result would probably have been different.”

The Twins were already coming back from a three-run deficit — starter Dylan Bundy allowed three runs and six hits in five innings — in the sixth, thanks to a two-run homer from Alex Kirilloff and a solo shot from Gio Urshela. And their best bullpen weapons in Caleb Thielbar, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran had already pitched scoreless innings.

“We must turn to another man. We need a full bullpen. We need our guys to go out there and pitch,” Baldelli said of Pagan’s effort. “We’ve been dealing with EP a lot at those spots, and we’ve been dealing with some other guys at those spots too. We will continue to look at each other.”

What makes Pagan’s mistakes so glaring, including his five missed saves and 5.26 ERA this season, is that he came to the Twins in a pre-opening-day trade for All-Star Taylor Rogers. Rogers is second in the National League with 22 saves for the Padres.

“It’s probably the best stuff I’ve had in my career. Maybe in my life,” Pagan said. “… It is frustrating. I feel like I’m throwing the ball well enough to go wide and it’s just not going my way at the moment. I only get hit. So I’m pretty pissed.”

Baldelli agreed that Pagan’s pitches look great outside of game situations. But the execution is lacking. And what complicates the ability to bridge the gap is coach Wes Johnson’s imminent departure. Thursday is Johnson’s last game before taking the pitching coach job at Louisiana State.

“At this point he’s in a rut. He’s got what it takes, but obviously something’s missing,” said Baldelli. “He’s a worker. He’ll keep putting his head down and he won’t shy away from it if we give him the ball. And he won’t shy away from a difficult conversation either.”