MINNEAPOLIS — If and when Jim Thome enters the Hall of Fame, and the guy is closing in on 600 career homers without a whiff of scandal, the Royals ought to get mention in his acceptance speech.
Thome has more homers than any player in history against the Royals, and he cranked No. 48 Sunday afternoon on a three-run bomb into the upper deck at Target Field that carried the Minnesota Twins to a 4-3 victory.
"Anytime you hit a ball that far," Thome said, "it's always special, that feeling you kind of want to last forever. It went out and put us ahead."
The official word from the Twins pegged the blast at 490 feet. Ahh ... well, maybe. But this much is certain: It was tagged.
Never miss a local story.
The 490-foot blast is now, officially, the longest ever hit at Target Field — replacing a 480-foot drive off the flag pole beyond the right-field seats that Thome hit on Sept. 6, 2010 against Sean O'Sullivan in a 5-4 victory over the Royals.
But neither of those comes close to the longest in his career against the Royals. Thome cranked a 511-foot shot in Cleveland on July 3, 1999 against Don Wengert that remains the longest homer in the history of Progressive Field.
This one, though — No. 596 in a 21-year career — was a difference-maker.
It came in the sixth inning with the score 1-1 and broke up a pitcher's duel between Felipe Paulino and Minnesota's Brian Duensing on a hot, muggy afternoon.
Ben Revere opened the inning with a single to center and moved to second on Alexi Casilla's sacrifice, which prompted an intentional walk to Joe Mauer.
Paulino struck out Michael Cuddyer and worked the count full on Thome before throwing a slider that flattened instead of darting down... and boom.
The Twins led 4-1.
"It was the right pitch in that situation," Paulino said, "and it was my choice. I just didn't finish it. And you saw what happened. It wasn't cheap.
"If you look at the sliders I threw before that one, they broke down and away. But that one was flat and right through the middle. I paid for that."
The Royals answered in the seventh with a leadoff double from Billy Butler and a two-run homer by Jeff Francoeur. That was as close as they got in suffering a second straight one-run loss. The Twins won three of four in the series.
"We played them tough," Butler said. "We just came up short one way or the other. That's the way it's been all year."
Paulino, 1-3, gave up four runs and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one while throwing 113 pitches, which marked the fifth time in six starts that he has thrown at least 108.
"He's got a chance to be a really good pitcher," manager Ned Yost said. "He's got a great fastball. He's got a very sharp curveball and a very sharp slider. He throws all of them for strikes. He just needs to pitch inside a little bit more."
Duensing, 7-7, gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. Alex Burnett stranded the tying run in the seventh before Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan closed out the victory.
The Royals nicked Duensing for one run in the first after Melky Cabrera yanked a one-out double into the left-field corner. Alex Gordon followed with a slicing RBI single to left against his one-time Nebraska teammate for a 1-0 lead.
Any chance for a bigger inning ended when Butler grounded into a double play.
The Twins answered with a near-identical first inning against Paulino.
Casilla reached on a one-out double into the right-center gap, and Mauer followed with an RBI single through the right side before Cuddyer grounded into a double play.
Francoeur continued the trend with a one-out double in the second, but Duensing struck out Wilson Betemit before getting Matt Treanor to ground out to short.
Paulino retired the Twins in order in the second and third, but Casilla and Mauer opened the fourth with successive singles, which put runners at first and third with no outs.
But Paulino worked around it by striking out Cuddyer and getting Thome to ground into a double play — on a slider that darted. The game stayed 1-1 into the sixth.
"We're just at a point where one mistake kills us every day," Yost said. "It's a pitch or missing a pitch offensively. Or we boot a ball somewhere. It's just one mistake that's costing us the game.
"We don't build a big-enough lead where we can afford to make a mistake or two. We're just walking a thin line. We hung a 3-2 (slider) and it cost us the game."