Loss No. 9 in a row by the Royals in their continuing plunge might be the toughest yet.
The Royals forced extra innings Tuesday night on Mark Teahen’s three-run, inside-the-park homer in the ninth inning against Twins closer Joe Nathan.
All that drama, alas, became little more than a footnote when Michael Cuddyer delivered an RBI single in the 12th inning that lifted Minnesota to a 4-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Jesse Crain, 2-2, got the victory when Matt Guerrier worked a scoreless 12th inning for his first save.
Royals reliever Leo Nuñez, 3-1, ran into trouble in the 12th after issuing a one-out walk to Joe Mauer. Justin Morneau followed with a single to left that José Guillen reached but couldn’t catch.
Guillen threw to third, which allowed Morneau to take second.
The Royals pulled their infield in for Cuddyer.
It didn’t matter.
Cuddyer punched an RBI single into right.
A walk to Jason Kubel loaded the bases before Nuñez stranded three runners by getting Delmon Young to ground into a double play.
The Twins, 26-25, had the run they needed, though, after nearly letting a victory slip away.
Minnesota rookie Nick Blackburn carried a 3-0 lead into the ninth but began the inning by hitting Alex Gordon. Miguel Olivo’s one-out single brought the tying run to the plate and prompting a pitching change.
In came Nathan, who had converted all 13 of his previous save opportunities. Nathan also had a string of 18 straight successful saves against the Royals and a 0.68 ERA in 39 career appearances.
So what happens?
Teahen sliced Nathan’s first pitch, a 94-mph fastball, down the left-field line. Young tried for a diving catch, missed and the ball skittered away. Young was slow to get to his feet, which enabled Teahen to circle the bases for an inside-the-park homer.
It was the first inside-the-park homer by a Royal since Mark Grudzielanek on Aug. 20, 2006 against Oakland. It was the 91st inside-the-park homer in franchise history.
Teahen’s homer forced Blackburn to settle for a no-decision and took Brian Bannister off the hook for a loss. Blackburn gave up two runs and eight hits in 8 1/3 innings; Bannister allowed three runs and seven hits while throwing 111 pitches in just five innings.
Blackburn made it look easy until he weakened in the ninth. The Royals were headed toward their third shutout in nine games until Teahen popped the ball past Young.
It was a temporary reprieve.
The Royals, 21-31, have their first nine-game losing streak since a 13-game skid from May 12-25, 2006. It is their fifth streak of nine or more losses since April 2005.
Some perspective: The other 29 teams, combined, have only 19 such skids in that same span.
Tuesday’s game marked the start of a six-game homestand. The Royals returned home after a 2-9 road trip that concluded with four-game sweeps in Boston and Toronto.
Bannister pitched around a two-on, no-out jam in the second inning by getting Kubel to ground into a first-short-pitcher double play.
The Twins put runners on first and second again with one out in the fourth. Cuddyer then pulled a drive into the left-field corner that third-base umpire Jim Reynolds ruled foul.
Replays suggested the ball was fair.
Cuddyer made no mistake later in his at-bat when he lined an RBI single into center field. Morneau went to third on the single, which enabled him to score when Kubel grounded out to second.
The Twins extended their lead to 3-0 in the fifth after Brendan Harris poked a one-out single to center. Carlos Gomez followed with a single to deep short before Alexi Casilla served an RBI single into center.
Bannister loaded the bases by walking Mauer but escaped further damage by getting a force at home on Morneau’s grounder to first and striking out before striking out Cuddyer.
Royals' longest losing streaks
19: July 28-Aug. 19, 200513: May 12-25, 200612: June 28-July 13, 199711: June 27-July 8, 198611: April 9-21, 20069: Eight times; the latest is the current streak