MINNEAPOLIS | Just when it seemed the Royals were going to waste an encouraging bounce-back performance by Luke Hochevar, lightning struck Friday night when Eric Hosmer launched a booming two-run homer.
Hosmer’s two-out blast in the ninth inning produced a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. It was a 421-foot drive to straightaway center against closer Matt Capps and stunned the sellout crowd of 39,177.
“Playing in a big park with (Ben) Revere out there in center,” Hosmer said, “I was just hoping it got over his head. I looked up again and saw it went over. That was a big sigh of relief for us to get those two runs.”
There were more thrills in the Minnesota ninth after Jim Thome nicked Joakim Soria for a leadoff single. Danny Valencia followed with a drive to deep center that Melky Cabrera ran down as pinch-runner Matt Tolbert scrambled back to first.
“As soon as he hit the ball,” Soria said, “I thought it was out. He hit that ball real well. I could hear it from the mound. Really hard. But thank God, the ball stayed in the ballpark.”
Tension heightened again when Delmon Young looped a single into center that moved Tolbert to third with one out. By now that crowd was roaring.
“After those hits,” Soria said, “I just tried to keep my mind on the next hitter and get him out. And it just happened.”
Pinch-hitter Luke Hughes hit a squibber in front of the plate that Soria turned into the second out by flipping the ball to catcher Matt Treanor with Tolbert coming home on a contact play.
Soria ended the game by retiring Tsuyoshi Nishioka on a grounder to short.
“It was as exciting a game as you’re going to see,” manager Ned Yost said, “in the regular season, anyway. At least for us. We haven’t had much excitement lately.”
Capps, 2-5, inherited a 1-0 lead from Nick Blackburn and Joe Nathan but worked himself to immediate trouble by walking Cabrera on four pitches.
“I didn’t feel like I threw four balls to the first guy,” Capps said. “I’ve got to find a way to let that go and stay within myself and realize I’m a pitch away.”
Cabrera moved into scoring position by stealing second when Alex Gordon swung through a nasty off-speed pitch on a hit-and-run play. That marked the first time the Royals put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs.
But Cabrera was still at second after Gordon grounded to third. He still there, too, after right fielder Jason Repko ran down Billy Butler’s deep drive into the corner for the second out.
“The ball that Billy hit down the line,” Yost said, “I thought for sure the minute it left his bat that the game was tied. I just didn’t think there was any way (Repko) was going to catch it, and he ended up catching it easily.
“But Hos took care of the rest. We think he’s capable of doing that kind of stuff.”
Hosmer took a mighty swing on a first-pitch fastball from Capps before teeing off, and connecting, on a cutter.
“I tried to go in to Hosmer,” Capps said, “and it just ran over the plate. He put a good swing on it. It shows why he’s a good young player. He hit it out of the park.”
“The first one didn’t work out as planned,” Hosmer said. “But I told myself to step out and relax. Just take a deep breath. He threw a cutter on the next pitch and left it a little over the middle, and I got some good wood on it.”
Tim Collins, 4-4, got the victory by pitching a scoreless eighth inning, but it was seven strong innings by Hochevar that set up everything. Soria got his 16th save in 21 chances; he is nine for nine since reclaiming his job as the bullpen’s closer.
One start isn’t enough to judge, certainly, but Hochevar reversed a series of rough outings by limiting the Twins to one run and three hits. He struck out four and walked three – two of which were intentional walks to Joe Mauer.
So, yes, this marked an encouraging turnaround for Hochevar after yielding 19 runs and 29 hits in 20 2/3 innings over his four previous starts.
“A lot better,” Yost said, “and that’s what I expect from him. He did a great job of changing speeds and moving the ball in and out. He really had an opportunity to be out of that game at 0-0.”
Hochevar retired the first nine Twins before speedy Ben Revere beat out a grounder to deep short for a leadoff single in the fourth. That led to the game’s first run after Revere stole second and moved to third on Alexi Casilla’s grounder to second.
After two balls to Mauer, Hochevar and the Royals opted for an intentional walk, which set up a double-play possibility. Hochevar retired Michael Cuddyer on a soft pop to first but buried his first pitch to Thome.
The ball skipped away from Treanor for a run-scoring wild pitch. Hochevar kept the damage at one run by retiring Thome of a squibber back to the mound.
One run was enough until Hosmer’s heroics because Blackburn stymied the Royals on four hits in seven innings. Nathan then pitched a scoreless eighth.