MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — It was a tight pitcher’s duel. And then it wasn’t. Then the Royals had a comfortable lead with their most reliable starter on the mound. And then they didn’t. And what started Friday as a promising weekend ended Sunday in disaster.
The Minnesota Twins erased a four-run deficit in the sixth inning when Bruce Chen, who had been cruising along, served up booming homers to Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe in a 10-8 loss at Target Field.
The Royals had just scored four runs in the top of the inning but, after Minnesota answered with a five-spot, never fully recovered.
Drew Butera supplied the knockout punch with a three-run homer in the eighth against reliever Aaron Crow. It was Butera’s first homer of the season, but the Twins’ fourth of the day.
Butera’s homer also allowed the Twins to survive the Royals’ three-run ninth against Glen Perkins. The Royals got four straight two-outs hits but fell short. It was that sort of weekend.
It all sent them limping toward Toronto with a three-game losing streak after opening the series Friday by holding on for a 4-3 victory. They appeared lifeless Saturday in losing a doubleheader but seemed poised Sunday to gain a split.
Until they didn’t.
Chen (7-7) and Twins starter Francisco Liriano were dominant for five innings. Chen permitted just one hit, albeit a homer by Plouffe; Liriano yielded one run on four singles.
Then everything changed.
The Royals knocked out Liriano by striking for four runs in the sixth after Jeff Francoeur opened the inning with a deep fly to center.
Yuniesky Betancourt singled through the left side and went to second when Liriano skimmed Eric Hosmer with a pitch. Brayan Peña high chop to the mound caromed off Liriano’s glove and away from everyone for a single that loaded the bases.
The big break came next — when Jason Bourgeois’ grounder bounced through first baseman Justin Morneau for one error and through right fielder Darin Mastroianni for another error.
Two runs scored, and the Royals wound up with runners on second and third. The official ruling was a fielder’s-choice prior to Morneau’s error, which meant Bourgeois got credit for one RBI.
That was it for Liriano, but not the Royals. Irving Falu lashed a 2-0 fastball from reliever Jeff Gray into the right-field corner for a two-run double and a 5-1 lead.
It wasn’t. The Twins got it all back and more.
Brian Dozier opened the Minnesota sixth with a triple over Bourgeois’ head in center. Denard Span’s sacrifice bunt made it 5-2. A walk to Jamey Carroll and a single by Joe Mauer put runners on first and second with one out.
Manager Ned Yost chose to stick with Chen, his veteran lefty, against two right-handed power hitters and, like most things over the last two days, it didn’t work.
Willingham tied the game with a moon shot into the bullpen to the left of dead-center field. Chen struck out lefty-swinging Justin Morneau, but Plouffe followed with his second homer of the game.
It, too, was a no-doubter, and the Twins led 6-5 — and Chen exited.
Minnesota added an insurance run in the seventh against Kelvin Herrera and José Mijares, while their bullpen blanked the Royals over the final three innings.
The Royals did put the tying runs on base with two outs in the eighth against Jared Burton, but Billy Butler lost a 10-pitch battle by striking out. Butera’s three-run shot against Crow made the hole too deep.
The three straight losses dropped the Royals to 35-42, which means only a 7-0 run through Toronto and Detroit can enable them to achieve their goal of climbing back to .500 by the All-Star break.
The Twins opened the scoring on Plouffe’s first homer, which came with two outs in the second inning. He jumped a first-pitch offering from Chen and drove it into the left-field seats for a 1-0 lead.
Liriano didn’t surrender a hit until Butler opened the fourth with a line single to center. Butler moved to second with one out when Betancourt worked a nine-pitch walk.
Hosmer’s single to left loaded the bases before Peña tied the game with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field.
Minnesota’s only hit was Plouffe’s homer until Mastroianni reached on a bunt single with two outs in the fifth.
Notes — First baseman Eric Hosmer raised his average to .233 by going three for four. He is 11 for 25 in his last seven games.… Lefty reliever José Mijares worked two-thirds of an inning and has not allowed a run in 10 1/3 innings over his last 13 appearances. His ERA is down to 1.74.… Irving Falu broke a zero-for-16 slide with a two-run double in the Royals’ four-run sixth inning. He started at second base when manager Ned Yost rested Mike Moustakas by starting Betancourt at third.