MINNEAPOLIS | Any doubt that things are falling into place for Royals as the season draws to a close? Saturday afternoon brought more proof when they tormented the Minnesota Twins once again with a 4-2 victory at the Metrodome.
The decisive runs scored on Ryan Shealy’s two-run bloop single in the seventh inning that squirted just over a drawn-in infield.
“It was an ugly way to come through,” Shealy shrugged, “but I came through nonetheless.”
The Royals then weathered a series of threats over the final three innings to secure their fifth straight victory and their 13th in 15 games. Afterward, even the Twins were shaking their heads.
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“Their timely hitting,” right fielder Denard Span said. “That’s what we normally excel in. They pulled a number on us on and did what we normally do to other teams.
“They come in here, they’re not in the playoff race, but they’re playing great.”
Gil Meche improved to 14-11 by limiting the Twins to two runs, one earned, in six-plus innings. He lowered his ERA to 3.98 and provided the rotation with its 12th quality start in 13 games.
John Bale pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the seventh. Ramon Ramirez stranded two runners in the eighth. Joakim Soria worked around successive walks to start the ninth for his 42nd save in 45 opportunities.
The crowd of 38,072 came primed to cheer their first-place Twins to a division title. Instead, it saw them frustrated repeatedly. Minnesota hit into four double plays and still stranded 11 runners.
The Twins maintained their one-half-game lead atop the American League Central Division only because the White Sox lost to Cleveland.
“I haven’t been in an environment like this since Opening Day in Detroit,” Meche said. “The fans are ridiculously loud. When you’re on that mound, they start screaming. It’s a good time.”
The Royals are 18-7 in September. Those 18 victories are more than any other team. Too bad the season ends today.
“Tonight, I felt like I was pitching in the playoffs,” Bale said. “Just from the way the crowd was into it. Just for us to finish on a strong note like this is going to be huge going into next year.”
The Royals, 75-86, remained one-half game ahead of Detroit, 74-86, in their quest to avoid a fifth straight last-place finish in the American League Central Division. The Tigers beat Tampa Bay 4-3.
Minnesota opened the scoring with single runs in the second and third before the Royals pulled even with single runs in the fifth and sixth. Shealy’s two-run single was the difference.
“We got a couple of seeing-eye hits,” manager Trey Hillman said. “We got a little lucky. We squared a few balls up, but we missed some opportunities, too. But in the end, it was great to get this one.”
Twins lefty Glen Perkins worked just five innings but handed a 2-1 lead to Boof Bonser in the sixth.
The Royals struck immediately.
José Guillen led off with a single and went to second on Shealy’s bouncing single through the left side. Mark Teahen followed with a hopper that Bonser deflected past second baseman Alexi Casilla for an RBI single that rolled into right field.
The game was tied.
The Royals went on to load the bases with no outs but squandered the opportunity.
They kept coming, though.
Mike Aviles and Alberto Callaspo opened the seventh with singles against Matt Guerrier. Callaspo’s single extended his hitting streak to 18 games.
Jesse Crain replaced Guerrier, who struck out Guillen, but the third strike got away from catcher Joe Mauer, and the runners advanced to second and third.
That proved decisive when Shealy served a single into short right just beyond the diving reach of first baseman Justin Morneau. The Royals led 4-2.
That would be enough. Guerrier, 6-9, was the loser.
It wasn’t easy, though.
The Twins stirred in the seventh after Alex Gordon’s throwing error from third on Carlos Gomez’s leadoff grounder. When Span walked, Hillman summoned Bale.
Casilla popped out on a bunt, but Bale loaded the bases by walking Mauer on four pitches. That set up a matchup against Morneau, who leads the American League in RBIs.
Morneau ended the inning by grounding into a double play.
“It was pretty intense out there,” Bale said. “Morneau usually swings early off me and hits ground balls. I was just glad he swung at the first pitch.”
Ramirez allowed a single and a walk in the eighth but escaped when Gomez lined out to Teahen in left. Soria followed his two walks by getting Mauer to ground into a double play. Morneau ended the game with a fly to left.
“The things that usually go for us went against us,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Bloops. Chops. Balls of the glove. They did to us what we do to other teams.”