For whatever reason, the Royals still can’t beat the Minnesota Twins. Even these sad-sack Twins who, prior to Saturday, had lost 17 of their previous 21 games.
It just doesn’t matter.
Minnesota opened the rain-delayed series Saturday afternoon with a 3-1 victory in the first game of a doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium before torching Luke Hochevar and completing the sweep by holding on to win 8-7 in the second game.
Note: The Twins executed their sweep by starting two rookies who are a combined 1-14 in their careers when facing anyone but the Royals.
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Cole De Vries, 4-5, beat the Royals for the third time in three starts by yielding just one run in 6 2/3 innings in the opener. Liam Hendriks has only himself to blame for failing, in the nightcap, to get his first big-league career victory.
Hendriks had leads of 4-0 and 8-2 but exited after allowing the Royals to get the tying run to the plate with two outs in the fourth inning. The Twins’ bullpen lurched through the rest of the game; Anthony Swarzak, 3-4, got the victory.
Glen Perkins got saves in both games.
The Royals got a leadoff single by Salvy Perez in the ninth inning of the second game, but the Twins removed the tying run by throwing out pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson on a pickoff/caught-stealing.
De Vries had to be sharp because Will Smith, 4-7, countered with a quality start, but Minnesota annihilated Hochevar, 7-13, for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings. He yielded a three-run homer in the first to Chris Parmelee and a grand slam in the second to Joe Mauer.
The Twins are now 10-4 this season against the Royals who, remember, had executed three-game sweeps of the division’s top two teams, Chicago and Detroit, in their two previous home series.
Reverse that record, i.e., if the Royals held a 10-4 advantage, they would be within reach of .500 and not a complete afterthought in terms of postseason.
Instead, well, you know …
The Twins did this before.
It was roughly two months ago that Royals pulled themselves to within four games of .500 — their highest point since a 12-game April skid — prior to a Saturday double-header at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Jonathan Sánchez threw up a stinker in the opener before the Twins beat Hochevar in the second game. That started the Royals on a 6-21 slide that dropped them into last place. The Royals were 18-11 since that point … before Saturday.
Now they need a victory today from Luis Mendoza to avoid a sweep.
The opener started at 3:31 p.m. — 21 minutes late — and with the rain still falling. It soon stopped. When it did, the Royals announced Kauffman Swamp had taken on 6.56 inches of water over roughly 30 hours.
Minnesota jumped to a 1-0 lead against Smith in the first inning when Justin Morneau yanked a two-out RBI double into the right-field corner. The Twins extended their lead to 3-0 with a two-run fifth; Morneau hit a sacrifice fly and Ryan Doumit had an RBI single.
De Vries carried a four-hit shutout into the seventh.
“He was just mixing it really good,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Very slow curveball. It was hard to get the timing on it. Nothing special. Just mixing it up.”
De Vries offered up familiarity as the reason for his success.
“Something is working,” he said. “I feel like half of my starts have been against the Royals or the White Sox. I feel I know both those teams decently well. I feel comfortable pitching against both of them just because I’ve pitched against them so much.”
Finally, the Royals stirred to life. Singles by Mike Moustakas, Brayan Peña and Johnny Giavotella produced one run before Alex Burnett stranded two runners by retiring Cain on a grounder to short. Jared Burton and Perkins closed out De Vries’ victory.
“I don’t know,” manager Ned Yost said. “We just couldn’t muster anything against (De Vries) again. It’s the third time he’s pitched really well against us. He does a nice job of keeping the ball down, and he gets us to swing at his pitch more than we probably should.”
Hochevar ran into immediate trouble in the nightcap. Two singles, a wild pitch and a walk loaded the bases with no outs in the first. He had a chance to escape with one run after Morneau grounded into a run-scoring double play.
But a walk to Josh Willingham, after being ahead 1-2 in the count, preceded Parmelee’s three-run homer. The Royals countered with two runs in their first on two-out RBI singles by Perez and Moustakas, but Hochevar quickly spit back the lifeline.
Two walks and a double loaded the bases with no outs in the Minnesota second. Alexi Casilla struck out, but Mauer crushed a 1-2 fastball for a grand slam.
A Mauer grand slam in the second made it 8-2.
The Royals got an RBI double from Moustakas in the third before a two-out error by third baseman Trevor Plouffe led to two unearned runs in the fourth. When Alex Gordon and Billy Butler followed the error with RBI singles, the Twins went to the bullpen.
Swarzak carried the three-run lead into the seventh before the Royals again got the tying run to the plate. The Twins again went to their bullpen, but Eric Hosmer’s two-run, two-out single against Casey Fein closed the gap to 8-7.
The Royals got no closer.