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After O's blow save in 9th, Twins complete four-game sweep with 4-3 win in 12 innings

Call it gut-check time. Call it do-or-die. Call it playing on a prayer.

Whatever the terminology, the Orioles headed to Kansas City on Sunday night knowing that, essentially, their season is hanging in the balance after a disastrous end to a once-promising homestand that culminated with a 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon.

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Last week, the Orioles (62-61) held the second wild card playoff spot in the American League. They have since lost five of six games, including four straight at home to the Twins (63-61), who hopped over the Orioles in the wild-card standings.

"When you lose four in a row, [the games] start getting pretty important pretty quick," said Zach Britton, who blew his third save of the season in the ninth inning on Sunday. "So this next month coming up, for every loss it's going to take a couple wins to get you back to where you want to be. We understand that. We are in a tough spot."

After Sunday's play, the Orioles were 61/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East and trailed the Texas Rangers by two games for the second wild card spot. The Los Angeles Angels and Twins are each a half game ahead of the Orioles.

And they must play seven games on the road, where the Orioles are a dismal 25-36 this year. The first four games will be a rematch of the 2014 AL Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, the league's best team. The following three are in Texas against a surging Rangers team that has won eight of their past 10 games.

"This is going to test us mentally, bouncing back from a tough series," Britton said. "It's hard to lose like this, especially knowing that you're going in and facing two good ballclubs."

Even in a season of dramatic falls and unexpected surges, this 10-game homestand, the club's longest of the year, was 2015 in a snapshot. After being no-hit in Seattle on Aug. 12, the Orioles won four straight at Camden Yards against the Oakland Athletics, getting two walkoff wins and scoring 18 runs in another game.

They then split two with the New York Mets before being swept in a four-game series by the Twins for the first time since 2007. Minnesota has won eight straight games against the Orioles, including all seven this year.

"We lost four, so obviously where we are right now, we want to play better and win some of these games," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "So, [it's] frustrating."

In a game that lasted four hours and 24 minutes before an announced 35,144, the Orioles lost after possessing a lead going into the ninth inning for the first time in 55 games. Paced by three RBIs from Jonathan Schoop and a superb two-run, seven-inning outing from starter Kevin Gausman, the Orioles handed a 3-2 lead to Britton.

The sinkerballer got his groundballs, but two went for infield singles and another found its way to left field — an RBI single by Trevor Plouffe that tied the game, 3-3.

The Orioles had a chance to win in the 11th, and Showalter rolled the dice. With runners on first and second and two outs, Showalter decided to send in Jimmy Paredes to pinch-run for J.J. Hardy, who was on second but has been hampered by a sore left groin. Showalter said later that he might not have pinch-ran for Hardy if he thought he was fully healthy.

Because Hardy had come in to play shortstop after starter Ryan Flaherty was removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, Showalter was left with no experienced shortstop for the 12th inning if the Orioles couldn't plate the winning run.

They couldn't. Adam Jones struck out, ending the threat.

Showalter then moved Manny Machado, who played natural shortstop in the minor leagues but had not in the majors, to short and Paredes, a defensive liability, to third base. The alignment backfired.

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With one out and Brian Matusz (1-3) pitching, Eduardo Escobar hit a routine ground ball to shortstop. Machado charged it, and the ball skipped under his glove.

"I missed the ball, plain and simple. There's no excuses here," Machado said. "I missed the [expletives] ball and that's it."

With two outs, Shane Robinson hit a bouncer to third that nicked off Paredes' glove and bounced into short left field, allowing Escobar to scamper home for the eventual winning run. Despite playing just nine innings at third base this season, Paredes has three errors there.

"You know how much he cared and it bothered him, so your heart goes out to him," Showalter said of Paredes, who was not available for comment after the game.

To add injury to insult, Hardy, the club's infield glue, is headed to the disabled list with the groin injury. He didn't re-aggravate it, he said, but he felt lingering discomfort, and the Orioles can't be potentially short-handed during such an important series.

So the Orioles return to Kansas City for the first time since last October, knowing what's at stake.

"There are no rollovers. We've got to keep fighting. Keep our heads up, stay positive," Machado said. "We've got to go out to KC, a strong team that's playing well. You've got to go out there and win some games."

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