MINNEAPOLIS — Here on Tuesday night, finally, the Royals got a look at the Minnesota Twins that the rest of the league apparently sees much of the time.
This was a 9-1 laugher at Target Field behind seven shutout innings from rookie Will Smith before Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman finished up. Every starter reached base at least once in a balanced 15-hit attack.
“We’ll try to do the same thing (tonight),” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Put some runs on the board early for our pitchers. We want to come in and win the series (tonight) and go for the sweep the next day.”
Sounds like a plan.
The Royals opened the scoring against Twins rookie Scott Diamond with a three-run second inning by capitalizing for two runs after left fielder Josh Willingham lost a two-out fly in the lights.
A four-run eighth inning against relievers Luis Perdomo and Alex Burnett turned the game into a rout. So, yes, the Royals, at last, had an easy time against an opponent that shares the American League’s worst record.
“It was (nice),” manager Ned Yost said. “Diamond has always been tough on us. To score nine runs … the four tack-on runs in the eighth were huge. That kind of put the game away for us.”
The Royals won for the just the sixth time in 16 games against the Twins – and four of the previous five were by one or two runs.
Catcher Salvy Perez was a tour de force. His single started the three-run second inning. His sacrifice fly in the third extended the lead to 4-0, and he thwarted major Twins’ threats in the first and fifth innings by throwing out runners trying to steal.
“That guy is awesome,” Smith said. “He is so good. You feel confident that he’s just going to completely shut down the running game. He did tonight.”
Cain was a homer shy of the cycle when he came to bat in the eighth but was hit in the head on the first pitch from Perdomo. It was a slider that didn’t slide.
“The guy definitely let me know I was a home run away from the cycle,” Cain said. “I was looking for a pitch to drive and ended up getting hit in the head. I went down for a second, but I’ll be fine.”
Cain had time to turn his head and absorb the hit at the back base of the helmet. He remained in the game – and even joked with teammates on the way to first.
“The back of my head is a little sore,” he said, “but I should be ready to go (tonight). I have a light headache, but I’ll be all right. Nothing outrageous.”
Yost said, “He ducked, and it skipped off the top of the helmet. What scares you are the ones that hit and bounce forward.”
Smith (5-7) showed some early rust in making his first appearance in 10 days but, with Perez’s help, worked around the difficulty. He gave up seven hits while throwing a career-high 107 pitches.
“I didn’t have a one-two-three inning the whole time,” he said. “You’d like to clean that up, but it’s a big confidence booster to work out of jams.”
Neither Crow nor Coleman was sharp. Crow allowed a walk and two hits in the eighth but limited the damage to one run. Eric Hosmer got that run back with a two-out homer in the ninth.
Coleman yielded two singles in the ninth before ending the game.
Hosmer, Johnny Giavotella and Cain – the eight, nine and one hitters – each had three hits. Perez and Alcides Escobar had two. Diamond (11-7) gave up four runs and 10 hits in six innings.
Smith faced a lineup without Joe Mauer, who was scratched prior to the game because of back spasms. That’s no small deletion. Mauer’s .454 average against the Royals since the start of the 2010 season is the highest for any player against any opponent.
Even so, Smith needed a bailout from Perez after Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll opened the Twins’ first with singles. After Willingham took a third strike, the Twins tried for a double steal – but Perez threw out Carroll at second.
“We’ve got a situation of first and second with one out,” Yost said. “Then, all of a sudden, it’s two outs with a runner on third and two strikes on the hitter … It kept the momentum on our side.”
The Royals struck for three runs in the second inning — with a little help.
Perez led off with a single and lumbered to second on a wild pitch and to third on a throwing error by catcher Ryan Doumit. Mike Moustakas struck out, but Jeff Francoeur pulled an RBI single through the left side for a 1-0 lead.
Hosmer’s single moved Francoeur to second before Giavotella struck out. Then came the big break: Willingham lost Cain’s routine fly to left in the lights, and the result was a two-run triple.
“A lot of guys wish for those kinds of hits,” Cain said. “I finally got one.”
The Royals stretched their lead to 4-0 after Gordon started the third inning with a triple over Revere’s head in center. Perez’s one-out fly to deep left produced the run – and some derisive cheers for Willingham when he made the catch.
Smith worked around a two-on, no-out jam in the fourth when Doumit grounded into a double play. Perez then stoned the Twins again in the fifth after Smith started the inning by walking Darin Mastroianni and Eduardo Escobar.
After Pedro Florimon struck out, Perez turned the inning around by throwing out Mastroianni on an attempted steal of third – with a sidearm sling of a throw.
“I don’t know if Mastroianni was out or safe,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “but it was pretty impressive to be able to throw that ball sidearm to third base like he did, he’s an impressive young man.”
Hosmer’s leadoff double in the eighth against Perdomo ignited a four-run inning. Giavotella followed with an RBI single up the middle before Perdomo then hit Cain in the back of the helmet.
In came Burnett, who surrendered a hard grounder by Escobar past third that turned into a two-run triple. A one-out wild pitch scored Escobar for an 8-0 lead.