MINNEAPOLIS — It came down Saturday night to a matchup between unlikely All-Stars in the eighth inning, and Michael Cuddyer lined an RBI single against Aaron Crow that lifted the Minnesota Twins to a 4-3 victory over the Royals.
"I just hung a slider," Crow said. "He's a good enough hitter that you can't do that in a situation like that. I've just got to do a better job of locating that pitch when I'm ahead in the count."
Crow was ahead 1-2 in the count when he came with his hard slider in hopes of a strikeout with runners at first and third with one out.
"It was up a little bit," catcher Brayan Pen~a said, "but that was a good piece of hitting by Cuddyer. Aaron's slider is one of the hardest in the big leagues. You've got to give credit to (Cuddyer). He did a good job of connecting on that ball."
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Cuddyer's single snapped a 3-3 tie, and the one-run lead was enough because, unlike Friday — when the Royals rallied in the ninth against Matt Capps — the Twins called on Joe Nathan, a long-time nemesis, to close out the game.
Nathan responded with a scoreless inning for his 36th career save against the Royals.
Cuddyer's game-winning hit came against Crow, but it stuck lefty Jeff Francis, 3-11, with a loss. Francis opened the Twins' eighth by making an acrobatic flip from his glove hand to thwart speedy Ben Revere's bid for a bunt single.
Then it slipped away.
Alexi Casilla followed with single that fell in front of a diving Jeff Francoeur in right before Joe Mauer pulled a well-placed grounder through the right side that moved Casilla to third.
"I lost concentration on one pitch to Casilla," Francis said, "and I left a changeup up. He hit it. The pitch to Mauer was down. He hit the ball on the ground, but it found a hole.
"It's a tough one to lose. I've pitched well but just not well enough. That's on me."
In came Crow to face Cuddyer. The two were American League teammates earlier in the week at the All-Star Game. Crow gained an early edge by jumping 1-2 in the count before Cuddyer served an RBI single into center field.
"In a situation like that," Crow said, "you can't afford to make a mistake, especially with a runner on third. I'm trying to get a strikeout. If I throw a ball, then I can go back to trying to get him to hit into a double play."
Minnesota starter Carl Pavano got his 100th career victory with a complete game in his last outing against the Royals on June 3 at Kauffman Stadium. He was 3-1 with two no-decisions in six starts since then.
The Twins, this time, backed Pavano with two runs in the first inning before extending their lead to 3-0 in the fourth. But he couldn't hold it. He turned over a 3-3 game to Glen Perkins to start the eighth inning.
Perkins blew through the top three hitters in the Royals' lineup by retiring Chris Getz on a weak grounder to first before striking out Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon.
Perkins, 1-1, got the victory when the Twins scored later in the inning.
The Royals rallied from a 3-0 deficit on Alcides Escobar's two-run homer in the fifth and Eric Hosmer's run-scoring grounder in the sixth. Hosmer produced the tying run after a takeout slide by Alex Gordon prevented a double play on a Billy Butler grounder.
That snatched a victory from Pavano and positioned Francis for a possible victory. Francis retired 11 in a row after yielding a homer to Drew Butera in the fourth before Casilla's one-out single in the eighth.
"He pitched great," manager Ned Yost said. "It's the mirror image of his season right there. Pitch great and have nothing to show for it. The first inning, he struggled with the ball up.
"After that, he made his adjustments and started getting the ball down, changing speeds and working the corners."
Yost defended the decision to send Francis back to the mound in the eighth inning on a hot, sticky night at Target Field even though the Twins had the top of the order coming up.
"He was throwing the ball really well," Yost said. "I liked the fact he'd had good success against the top of that order. (Revere, Casilla and Mauer were a combined one for eight prior to the eighth). He just wasn't going to face Cuddyer."