MINNEAPOLIS — Just when the Royals appeared headed toward their first three-game sweep at Minnesota in more than 14 years, it all slipped away Thursday night in a 4-3 loss to the Twins in 10 innings at Target Field.
Back-to-back doubles to start the 10th by Alexi Casilla and Denard Span against Francisley Bueno completed Minnesota’s comeback and, for the Royals, put a sour end on what could have been a terrific road trip.
The Royals held a 3-1 lead going into the eighth and a 3-2 lead going into the ninth.
“You want to win those games when (Luis) Mendoza goes out there and pitches like that,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “We had a good lead. Our offense did OK, but I felt we could have done more to give us a more comfortable lead.”
Credit the Twins with this: They forced extra innings by nicking the Royals’ top two relievers, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland, for single runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
“It’s not the first time I’ve given up a run,” said Holland, who blew a save for the first time in14 opportunities since becoming the Royals’ closer. “It stings that we had a chance to sweep the series. We outplayed them for three games.”
Casilla started the winning rally with a leadoff double against Bueno, 1-1, on a drive to right-center. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain tried for a diving catch, missed, and suffered a strained right hamstring that forced his departure.
Initial indications suggest Cain’s injury isn’t serious, but he will be reevaluated before tonight’s game against the Angels at Kauffman Stadium.
But his exit Thursday prompted some major scrambling.
Previous substitutions – and the ejection of Billy Butler earlier in the inning – forced first baseman Eric Hosmer to shift to right field, while right fielder Jeff Francoeur shifted to center field.
Backup catcher Brayan Peña entered the game at first base.
Span drove his game-winner over Hosmer’s head – no right fielder catches the ball if positioned where the Royals had Hosmer.
“A lot of crazy things happened,” Hosmer said, “right there at the end of the game.”
Not many of them good.
Butler was ejected in the top of the 10th inning by umpire Mike Estabrook for questioning a called strike on a 2-1 pitch from Glen Perkins. Replays suggested the pitch was borderline – quite possibly a strike – but it still seemed a quick ejection.
Estabrook told manager Ned Yost that he twice warned Butler to pipe down before throwing him out of the game. The ejection followed Alex Gordon’s one-out double into the right-center gap.
“It was a heated moment,” Butler said, “and he has his opinion, and I’ve got mine. Obviously, his (opinion) matters most. Of course, I’d like to with two strikes there. I thought I should have still had just one strike. That’s the reason we got in the argument.”
Tony Abreu replaced Butler and struck out on the next pitch. The strikeout was charged to Butler. After an intentional walk to Salvy Perez, who had a two-run single earlier in the game, Mike Moustakas ended the inning by grounding out to short.
Perkins, 3-1, got the victory when the Twins scored later in the inning.
So … the Royals settled for a 2-1 series victory – still their first winning series here since Aug. 11-13, 2009 – and a 4-2 trip instead of a sweep and 5-1. Not bad. Just not what could have been.
“You don’t want to lose a game like that,” Yost said. “But give them credit. They beat our best out there. We’ll put it behind us and move on, go home and play the Angels.”
The Twins pulled even when Trevor Plouffe opened the ninth inning with a homer against Holland after tying the game in the eighth when Holland, after replacing Herrera with the bases loaded, walked Josh Willingham.
“I don’t think (the pitch to Plouffe) was up,” Holland said. “It was just right down the middle. It’s a situation where I had walked Willingham the inning before. I fell behind 1-0 (to Plouffe), and I just tried to go into the middle of the plate and down.
“He’s a good fastball hitter, and it cost us the game.”
The bullpen collapse snatched a victory away from Luis Mendoza, who limited the Twins to one run and two hits in six innings. Mendoza handed a 3-1 lead to Aaron Crow to start the seventh.
Crow worked a scoreless inning, but Herrera found trouble in the eighth after hitting Drew Butera with one out. Chris Parmelee followed with a pinch single that moved Butera to second.
After Casilla replaced Parmelee as a pinch-runner, Span grounded into a force at second. The Royals had a chance for an inning-ending double play, but umpire Larry Vanover ruled the throw by shortstop Alcides Escobar pulled Hosmer away from first.
Replays appeared to support Vanover’s call.
“It was one calls that could’ve gone either way,” Hosmer said. “Tough play. Tough call.”
That left runners at first and third with two outs.
A walk to Ben Revere loaded the bases, and brought Holland into the game to face Willingham, whose first-inning homer against Mendoza had accounted for the Twins’ only run to that point.
The count went full. Willingham fouled off two pitches before Holland missed inside for a run-scoring walk. Holland kept the damage to one run by striking out Justin Morneau.
Then Plouffe went pow to start the ninth.
“I just didn’t get ahead,” Holland said.”I made a mistake and it cost us the game.”
The Royals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Minnesota rookie Liam Hendriks on Perez’s two-out single, which extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games.
The 17-game run is the longest current streak in the majors and the longest by a Royal since Francoeur’s 17-game run in 2011.
Minnesota got one run back later in the inning on Willingham’s 34th homer – a two-out drive to left-center field. Butler answered that with a two-out RBI double in the fifth.
It stayed 3-1 until the eighth.