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CLEVELAND — Before Thursday's game against Cleveland, the culmination of eight meetings in 10 days against the Guardians, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli noted how he rarely speaks to his team after a loss, preferring to let players lead those discussions.

But a couple of hours later — and for the second consecutive day — the Twins hobbled out of Progressive Field while the Guardians raucously celebrated a walkoff home run, this time a two-run shot by Andres Gimenez in the bottom of the ninth, which earned him an ice shower from a Gatorade cooler.

And Baldelli had to stage a rare manager intervention after the 5-3 loss.

"This is probably the most difficult, most, I would say, gut-wrenching, series I think I've ever been a part of," said Baldelli, who has been playing and coaching at the MLB level for nearly 20 years. "I've never really seen five games against one team in four days that felt like that."

His postgame speech in the clubhouse was only a 30-second reminder, filled with encouragement about how these losses don't reflect the Twins' actual capabilities. But there's not really much comfort the Twins can take after failing to claim a commanding lead in the American League Central and instead escaping only one game up on the second-place Guardians. They won two of five in Cleveland, with the three losses all coming because of bullpen collapses.

In the eight games against Cleveland, five of which the Guardians won, the Twins led in the eighth inning or later before blowing a potential victory in a crucial moment. Reliever Emilio Pagan has drawn a lot of ire for his part in the four previous losses, but there was plenty of blame to spread around Thursday.

Starter Chris Archer walked four consecutive batters in the second inning, giving Cleveland an early 1-0 lead, and only pitched four innings, throwing 90 pitches on a day when the Twins could have used a longer start. And while the Twins took a 3-1 lead in the third on Jose Miranda's bases-loaded double, the offense mustered only two more hits in the final six innings.

Middle relievers Jovani Moran and Tyler Duffey also blanked the Guardians over three innings, but Tyler Thornburg endured Archer's same problem after starting the eighth inning with a two-run lead, loading the bases on a hit batsman and two walks before Myles Straw drove in one run with an infield grounder to diving shortstop Carlos Correa. On that same play, Correa threw wildly to third base, trying for a force out, and the tying run scored.

With no other options in the bullpen, Thornburg had to come back out for the ninth and walked Jose Ramirez, then gave up Gimenez' two-out home run to center. But even that was arguably Baldelli's misstep for not having righthander Thornburg intentionally walk the lefthanded hitting Gimenez, who is hitting .308 with a .858 on-base plus slugging percentage this season, to get to righthanded hitting Franmil Reyes.

Archer said he and the rest of the pitchers need to work on limiting the "free passes" and be sharper on execution.

"This whole series has just been tough, you know?" Archer said. "They've played us to the ninth inning every game, and they got to us more times than not."

All but Thursday's loss were one-run margins, including two that took extra innings. In the three games the Twins won, two were shutouts and one was a blowout.

"It's hard to sometimes keep the really good, positive energy and way about things when things go up and down so quickly. Those are emotional games," Baldelli said. "… When you're out there, and you play, and you feel like you outplay the other team for seven innings [but lose] … That'll take something out of you if you let it."

Correa tried to keep this cringeworthy string of games in perspective.

"First, we're in first place," said Correa, who won a World Series with the Astros in 2017. "Second, it's a long year, and we know that. I've been on winning teams, and stretches like this always happen. … It's nothing new. But my job as a guy who's been there before is to let the guys know that it's just normal. It happens when you play 162. It's one of the toughest sports out there."