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Twins fall 4-1 to Houston Astros

Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver hits a single during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Monday. Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on MOnday. Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

HOUSTON — Nearly five months ago, the Twins took two of three from the reigning World Series champions in a frigid April series at Target Field that left the Houston Astros grumbling about the schedulers’ cruel sense of humor.

“A distant memory,” Twins manager Paul Molitor called that series on Labor Day morning.

Monday afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the division-leading Astros at Minute Maid Park brought things up to date.

Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel hit solo homers off Kyle Gibson, and Jorge Polanco’s fielding error in the second let in two unearned runs.

It was the eighth loss in the past 10 games for the Twins, who fell 11 games below .500 for the first time since July 6.

Polanco, who let Gurriel’s double-play grounder roll up his left arm for his fourth error in the past five games, has committed 10 errors overall since returning from suspension on July 2.

“I just kind of stopped when I was going to get the ball and I (mishandled) it,” Polanco said through a translator. “It was a bad hop, but I think because I stopped between hops, when it bounced again that’s what happened.”

The Twins loaded the bases in the ninth off three Astros relievers, but Polanco struck out against Brad Peacock after pulling a pair of line drives just foul down the right-field line.

“He’s the right guy you want up in those situations,” Molitor said. “He put a couple good swings on them but got a little quick.”

The Twins finished 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position, which is how you lose despite giving up just four hits.

Molitor lamented the missed opportunities and noted the recent spate of 10 errors in the past four games and 13 through the first seven games of this three-city road trip.

“We have made too many errors here as of late,” Molitor said. “Some have been maybe (due to) focus or distraction or whatever you might say. In some ways they are part of the game, and other times you are trying to tighten up the best way that you can.”

Slumping Miguel Sano poked a run-scoring single to right off left-hander Dallas Keuchel in the sixth to get the Twins on the board with an unearned run after Carlos Correa’s throwing error.

Sano, who also struck out twice, is 4 for 46 (.087) with 19 strikeouts in his past 54 trips (35.2 percent).

Two of those hits have left the yard.

Gibson (7-12) lasted seven innings for the 10th time while turning in his 16th quality start out of 28 tries (57 percent). Now at 171 innings on the year, Gibson lowered his ERA to 3.74 as he piled up a dozen groundball outs before exiting at 98 pitches.

“That’s one thing I definitely look at,” Gibson said. “When you’re ahead in the count, you can expand with that sinker and changeup and get groundballs. When you see more fly balls is when I have to execute pitches in the middle of the zone and I’m trying to get back in counts and they put a better swing on it.”

Gibson retired the last 11 batters he faced while throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters overall.

Joe Mauer, who came in 1 for 8 career off Keuchel, opened with a pair of singles, including his eighth infield hit of the year.

That moved Mauer past Garry Templeton and placed him one hit behind Brian Downing (2,099) for 232nd all-time.

Among those Mauer recently passed on the career hit list: Alfonso Soriano, Harvey Kuenn, Alvin Dark, Cedar Cedeno and Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Harmon Killebrew.