The latest chapter in their rut became even more humbling when ninth-place batter Jason Bartlett hit his first home run of the season, connecting on an 0-2 pitch off Jose Contreras for a three-run shot in the seventh inning that vaulted Minnesota to a 4-3 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Sox's consolation prize came in the form of Detroit's loss to Cleveland, which kept them 71/2 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central. But Minnesota's victory moved the Twins within a game of the Sox in the division, cutting their margin by 81/2 games since the All-Star break. And the Yankees won to move within a half-game in the wild-card chase.
"We've got to keep it tight," said Contreras, who accepted blame for hanging a breaking pitch to Bartlett that barely cleared the fence. "We had a 15-game lead that got down to 11/2 [last season], but we didn't blow it."
Tuesday's frustration became complete after Jermaine Dye drew a walk and Joe Crede singled off closer Joe Nathan with one out in the ninth. Pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski hit a flare to right, but Michael Cuddyer made a diving catch.
Pinch-hitter Alex Cintron fell behind 0-2, then battled to a 3-2 count before grounding out to Bartlett at short to end the game and give Nathan his 20th save in 21 opportunities.
"It's kind of cold water on your head," Guillen said. "We played another great game for nothing."
The Sox's 2-9 stretch since the All-Star break represents their worst skid since they went 2-11 from July 25-Aug. 7, 2004. In that tailspin, they fell from a half-game lead in the AL Central to a seven-game deficit behind Minnesota.
And after not getting swept in a series in the first half, a Sox loss Wednesday would mark the second three-game sweep by an opponent in the second half.
Contreras (9-3) matched 2004 AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana pitch for pitch until the seventh, when the bottom of the Twins' order haunted him.
With one out, Rondell White singled up the middle. Jason Tyner then dropped a bunt to the left side of the mound. Contreras quickly fielded the ball and threw to first, but umpire Tim Tschida ruled that Tyner had beaten the throw.
Bartlett, who hadn't hit a homer since Sept. 13, lifted a hanging breaking pitch into the air.
But the ninth-place hitter's fly had the aid of a 20 m.p.h. gust that carried it barely over the outstretched glove of Pablo Ozuna and over the left-field fence to snap a 1-1 tie.
"A home run is a home run," said Guillen, who watched Jim Thome hit a 447-foot shot in the first to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.
"This park runs very small in the summer, and we know all about it.
"It's frustrating when you see fly balls going out. I didn't expect it from [Bartlett]."
The Sox squandered a rally in the sixth when Tadahito Iguchi was nailed trying to advance from first to third on a single by Thome, with Cuddyer making an accurate one-hop throw.
Crede hit a two-run homer in the seventh off Santana, who still pitched well enough to win his third straight start and is 12-2 since losing to the Sox on April 21.
"We can change," Guillen said. "We don't have any choice."