MINNEAPOLIS — That streak-o-meter is pointing northward again for the Royals after they completed a three-game sweep over the Minnesota Twins with a 3-1 victory on a steamy Thursday afternoon at Target Field.
That makes five victories in a row, after a seven-game skid that was part of a 2-10 slide. That followed a 19-5 sprint once play resumed after the All-Star break. (And they lost five in a row, remember, just prior to the break.)
“I don’t know,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “but we’re playing good baseball right now. We’re feeling good. Hopefully, we don’t go through (a bad streak) again this year, but we are where we are.
“We’re happy with this streak. We’re not worrying about what we did before that.”
The Royals even, finally, picked up a game on Oakland in the American League wild-card chase when the A’s suffered a walk-off loss in Detroit. The Royals are now six games back with 29 games to play.
“My concern every day is just winning a baseball game,” manager Ned Yost said. “That’s what I focus on. I can’t even tell you who is ahead of us. My focus is if we win, everything else takes care of itself.”
By that gauge, this was a good day in what has been a good week.
Veteran lefty Bruce Chen, 6-2, bounced back from two rough outings by limiting the Twins to one run and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He lost his shutout on Brian Dozier’s leadoff homer in the sixth.
Kelvin Herrera got the final out in the sixth and worked a perfect seventh before Will Smith struck out two in a one-two-three eighth. All-Star closer Greg Holland collected his 36th save with a scoreless ninth.
“I tried to be more aggressive,” Chen said. “Last time, I walked five guys. I said, ‘You know what? I’ve got to give my defense a chance to play.’ ”
It only reinforced that view when second baseman Chris Getz made a ranging play to his left on Justin Morneau’s grounder in the first inning for the final out.
The Royals, now 69-64, scored all three of their runs against Minnesota starter Sam Deduno, 8-8, in an, ahh, interesting second inning that began with Billy Butler drawing a four-pitch walk.
Deduno then hit Justin Maxwell with a 2-2 pitch — and Maxwell slammed his bat to the ground.
That reaction might stem, at least in part, to Maxwell getting hit in his final at-bat in Wednesday’s 8-1 victory and from missing nearly two months early in the season, while playing for Houston, when hit in the left hand.
“I don’t think they were trying to hit me on purpose,” he said, “but with my history this year, I don’t like getting hit.”
Umpire Alan Porter and catcher Ryan Doumit walked alongside Maxwell (who was barking) to first base, but nothing further seemed to occur — until Twins manager Ron Gardenhire reacted to a warning from Porter.
That resulted in Gardenhire’s ejection.
“Sammy didn’t have his ‘A’ control today,” Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach said. “So when the ball takes off like that and instantly right away they warn you, it's kind of frustrating.”
When play resumed, the runners moved to second and third on George Kottaras’ grounder to first. Alcides Escobar followed with what turned into an RBI single to second when Dozier threw high to Deduno covering first.
Getz made it 2-0 with a single through the left side. After a double steal by Escobar and Getz put runners at second and third, Escobar got trapped off third on Jarrod Dyson’s sharp grounder to second.
Gordon then drove a two-out RBI single to left for a three-run lead. Deduno completed the inning before exiting because of a sore shoulder, and the Royals went scoreless for six innings against the Twins’ bullpen.
“We’ve been able to manufacture enough runs (lately) to win games,” Getz said. “Our pitching staff has been doing well. We were struggling at home. Maybe we just needed to get away.”
Chen pitched around Trevor Plouffe’s two-out double in the second inning and a pair of singles in the third. Chen also caught a break in the fourth after a one-out walk to Josh Willingham.
Doumit followed with a drive over Gordon’s head in left. Willingham easily reached third, but Gordon gunned down a slow-moving Doumit bidding for a double. Chen ended the inning by striking out Plouffe.
Minnesota right fielder Wilkin Ramirez required assistance to leave the field with one out in the fifth after fouling the ball off his left leg. Chris Herrmann completed the at-bat.
Ramirez’s injury was later characterized as a bruised shin.
Chen’s escapability ran out when Dozier opened the sixth inning with a 405-foot homer to left. Chen retired the next two batters before Yost went to the bullpen.
“He started to labor a little bit in the sixth,” Yost said. “After the homer to Dozier, my mind-set was, ‘He’s not going to face Willingham. We’ll get as far as Morneau, then I’m bringing the heat in.’ ”
The Twins didn’t get a runner against the Royals’ bullpen until Willingham worked a two-out walk in the ninth against Holland, who then ended the game by striking out Doumit.
“Good win,” Getz said. “Great to get the sweep. Hopefully, we can get some wins up in Toronto.”
And keep heading northward.