Willingham deals former team seventh straight loss

Heartbreaking silence filled the visitors’ clubhouse at Target Field on Tuesday night.

For several minutes, Brian Fuentes was the only one in sight. His last pitch of the game wasn’t.

The A’s closer took the blame for his club’s seventh straight loss, after surrendering a three-run, walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth inning to former teammate Josh Willingham, whose blast dealt Oakland a painful 3-2 defeat.

After, Fuentes talked of the 1-0 fastball he wished to take back.

“It’s not where I’m trying to put it,” he said. “Just up and down the middle. If I go in with a lead late, it’s my job to get it done. I wasn’t able to do that today, so it stinks.”

“He’s one out away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Not much else to say. One pitch away from ending the game, and he ends up giving up a home run. So I know nobody is more frustrating than he is about it.”

Frustration is running rampant through Melvin’s clubhouse in a stretch reminiscent of the one had last year, when the A’s dropped 10 straight from May 30 to June 9, with nine of those games coming under the helm of Bob Geren, before Melvin arrived.

And much of the issues that plagued the 2011 club are haunting the newest version of the green and gold. Last year, the A’s averaged just three runs during the 10-game skid. Through the seven consecutive losses this season, they’ve plated just 12.

“Overall, it’s been tough,” Fuentes said. “It seems like when we pitch we don’t score. And when we score we don’t pitch. It’s just what happens when things aren’t going good. What can you do? Pitch better. Hit better.”

The latter hasn’t been a specialty of the A’s all year. They’re hitting a Major League-worst .212, and on Tuesday could have used some help from the game’s hero, who hit 29 home runs with 98 RBIs last year for the A’s, before garnering free agency when the club refused to offer him a multi-year contract. Willingham has already hit nine out this year, and his 32 RBIs lead the Twins.

“Any time you can come back late is great,” Willingham said. “I go up there to have a good at-bat and try to hit the ball hard somewhere. I’ve tried to hit home runs before and it doesn’t work out. I was trying to keep it simple and get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it and that’s what happened.”

It followed a stretch of frustrating events for the A’s, who put the leadoff batter on base in each of the first four innings against righty Cole De Vries — he walked five and hit a batter in the first three — without scoring. Two were wiped away by double plays, just one day after the club had compiled four of them in a loss.

The seventh, though, brought about different results. With Twins reliever Jeff Manship on the mound, Kurt Suzuki reached on a leadoff single, advancing to second on Coco Crisp’s sacrifice bunt. Cliff Pennington’s ensuing infield popup off southpaw Brian Duensing resulted in the second out, but Jemile Weeks kept the inning alive with a base hit, before Cowgill plated the first run of the game.

Crisp’s RBI single in the eighth made a pregame decision by manager Bob Melvin look like a good one, as the skipper slid his slumping outfielder, normally stationed in the second slot, down to the eighth spot in the batting order. Crisp proceeded to go 2-for-2 with the sacrifice bunt and a walk.

“I’m sure he’s feeling a lot of confidence coming off of that,” Melvin said.

Youngster Jarrod Parker, meanwhile, gave the A’s six scoreless innings despite walking four. The A’s right-hander surrendered just five hits and fanned five, all the while lowering his ERA to 2.88 through seven starts, all but one in which he’s offered up two runs or less.

Parker has received little run support in several of those outings, as was the case this time around, yet he was the one who offered a positive in the midst of a disappointing atmosphere Tuesday night.

“We’re in every game,” the pitcher said. “Obviously we don’t want to lose, we want to win. We’re battling day in and day out. I think it’s something where we’re just a tick away and it’s going to click. It could be tomorrow, it could be the next day. It’s just a matter of time.”

Added Melvin: “They fight. The effort is there every single day. It’s disappointing, frustrating, the whole bit to be where we are right now. You just gotta keep plugging. This is just a tough one to swallow.”

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