Twins finish on sour note

Published 2:21 am Monday, September 30, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — After the Minnesota Twins fumbled, stumbled and whiffed their way through one last miserable defeat in a season full of them, many of the players walked up to manager Ron Gardenhire to give him one last handshake or hug.

They had to do it on Sunday, because they know they may not get another chance.

The Twins committed three errors and struck out 16 times in a 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the season finale, a game that could mark the end of Gardenhire’s 12-year tenure in Minnesota.

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Gardenhire is in the final year of his contract, and the Twins have lost at least 96 games for three straight seasons. General manager Terry Ryan said a decision will be made soon, and an announcement could come Monday.

“I like where I’m at,” Gardenhire said before the game. “I’d rather stay. And if it doesn’t work out here, then you start thinking about other stuff. I like it here; it’s as good as it gets for me.”

Scott Diamond (6-13) gave up four runs — two earned — and seven hits, including a two-run homer by Nick Swisher in the first inning that got the surging Indians rolling toward the playoffs.

Ubaldo Jimenez (13-9) tied a career high with 13 strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings for the Indians, who clinched the top wild card spot with the victory and will host Texas or Tampa Bay on Wednesday in their first postseason game since 2007.

The Indians lost 94 games a year ago, and the Twins (66-96) are hoping to follow a similar script to turn things around. Whether Gardenhire, who took over as manager in 2002 and is the second longest-tenured skipper in the majors behind the Angels’ Mike Scioscia, is around to see it through remains to be seen.

Gardenhire, stuck at 998 career victories since the Twins beat Detroit on Sept. 23, met with Ryan Sunday morning as part of their routine.

“I will never tell you my conversations with him; that’s a private thing, so it is what it is,” Gardenhire said. “Whatever happens, he’s going to make a decision and go with it; and I live with it, one way or another.”

Ryan is two years into his second stint as the Twins’ GM, taking over on what was then an interim basis after Bill Smith was fired in November 2011. At the time he expressed optimism for a quick turnaround, but the Twins have only slid deeper into despair, losing 192 games while trading away some of their best players — Justin Morneau, outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere — to start rebuilding with younger prospects.

“It’s not (Gardenhire’s) fault. It’s not his fault, you know? That’s all anyone can say,” said Mauer, who led the Twins with a .324 batting average but missed the last 41 games with a concussion. “Hopefully they realize that and we can bring him back, because he’s a great manager and I love playing for him.”

Gardenhire led the Twins to six division titles in his first nine seasons in Minnesota after succeeding Tom Kelly in 2002. But the Twins advanced to the ALCS just once, losing in five games to the Los Angeles Angels in 2002, and won only two games in their next five postseason series.

Last season, Ryan handled coaching decisions quickly, retaining Gardenhire after a 66-96 season but firing first base coach Jerry White and third base coach Steve Liddle, and removing Joe Vavra from his role as hitting coach the day after the season ended. He is expected to do the same this year, so the team shouldn’t have to wait long to find out if Gardenhire will be back for his 13th season.

“There’s no better guy to run this team, and I’ve said it once and will say it a thousand times, it’s not his fault,” closer Glen Perkins said. “He’s doing the best he can with what he’s given.”

NOTES: C Eric Fryer had the lone RBI for the Twins on Sunday with a single in the seventh inning. … The Twins struck out 16 times Sunday to finish with 1,430 strikeouts this season, third-most in baseball history, and recorded a team-record 66 games with at least 10 strikeouts. “ … OF Byron Buxton and LHP Andrew Albers were named the Twins’ minor league players of the year.