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Published: Monday, 7/7/2008

Lee falters as Tribe loses eighth straight


MINNEAPOLIS - Cliff Lee was cruising, and the Cleveland Indians were on the verge of a much-needed victory.

Then came the seventh inning, and a sign of just how fragile the defending AL Central champions currently are. The Twins took full advantage, using a handful of walks and well-placed singles to send the Indians to their eighth straight loss yesterday.

Carlos Gomez capped the three-run seventh against Lee with an RBI groundout, and Minnesota rallied for a 4-3 victory over Cleveland.

"I have to do a better job of damage control there, and I didn't," said Lee, who learned before the game he was selected for the all-star team. "And they got a win because of it. That is totally on me right there."

Lee (11-2) lost for the first time in nine starts, hurt by a rare lack of control in the seventh that helped the resourceful Twins put together another one of their small-ball rallies. They batted eight times that inning and hit the ball out of the infield twice.

"We've got a good attitude on the bench. Guys are into it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We feel like something's going to happen eventually."

Since losing 12-2 to the Indians in Cleveland on June 12, the Twins are 18-3. They have swept four of their last six series. The surge looks more impressive upon examination of the recent list of losing opposing pitchers: Lee, Ben Sheets, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Webb, and Randy Johnson.

"It definitely proves we can hit. We can score runs against anybody," said Glen Perkins (5-2).

Perkins allowed seven hits in seven innings before turning the lead over to Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan, who pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save.

Perkins, who hasn't lost in seven starts since May 30, has been one of Minnesota's most consistent starters. The left-hander has allowed three runs or less in his last six appearances.

Lee needed 37 pitches to finish the seventh.

He walked two, including Denard Span with the bases loaded, and wasted a 3-1 lead cushioned by Jhonny Peralta's two-run homer in the sixth. Lee had issued just 17 walks in 1112/3 innings all season before yesterday.

"When you're going through stretches like we're going through right now, that's usually the way it works," manager Eric Wedge said.

Until Span started the sixth with a triple, the only hits by the Twins didn't leave the infield - a popped-up bunt by Alexi Casilla that just cleared Lee's head and a grounder that Gomez beat out, drawing a brief argument about the call from Wedge.

Lee struck out Gomez after Span's triple and traded an out for a run when Casilla hit a grounder to shortstop, still taking a 3-1 lead into the seventh.

But with one out, Craig Monroe walked. Delmon Young reached on an infield single when third baseman Andy Marte lost the ball trying to pull it from his glove.

Brendan Harris followed with a single to load the bases, and Nick Punto pulled the Twins within one with his base hit on a 3-1 pitch. Lee went to a 3-1 count again on Span, and ball four tied the game. Gomez gave Minnesota its first lead on his groundout to shortstop.

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