MINNEAPOLIS | It comes to this for Zack Greinke: His final showcase start in a possible Cy Young season will come today against a surging Minnesota club that now finds itself just one game behind first-place Detroit with two games remaining.
The Twins made short work of Lenny DiNardo before holding off the Royals in Friday’s 10-7 victory at the Metrodome. That rout, coupled with Detroit’s 8-0 loss to Chicago, tightened baseball’s only remaining playoff race.
So the dome should be rocking this afternoon when Greinke tries to beat the Twins for the second time in a week. He and Joakim Soria combined for a 4-1 victory last Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
As for Friday, a looming fiasco almost turned into a nail-biter. The Royals fell into a 10-0 hole before scoring the game’s final seven runs.
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“They put up a ton of runs,” outfielder Mitch Maier said, “but no one gave up out there. We just kept battling and putting good at-bats together. Our rally fell a little short, but we did get into their bullpen quite a bit.”
Maybe that helps today and/or Sunday, but it wasn’t enough Friday to overcome DiNardo’s brutal start.
“If we could have started better off the mound,” manager Trey Hillman said, “it could have been a whole different story. When (DiNardo) was throwing strikes, they weren’t quality strikes. And he threw too many balls.”
The Royals wasted a first-and-third threat with one out in the first inning against Minnesota rookie Jeff Manship. The Twins then raked DiNardo for five runs in their first. Delmon Young supplied the key blow with a grand slam.
“It was a cut fastball,” DiNardo said, “that I just left dead middle right about the belt buckle.”
Translated, that means Young couldn’t have asked for a better pitch to hit if he’d been able to place the ball on a tee.
DiNardo, 0-3, lasted just three batters into the second inning before exiting with no outs and the bases loaded. Reliever Victor Marte permitted two runs to score before ending the inning.
Marte gave up three runs of his own in the fourth, including a 415-foot homer by Jason Kubel. So the Royals trailed by 10 runs before they finally snapped awake in the fifth inning.
Alex Gordon ignited a two-run burst with a one-out double into the right-field corner. Yuniesky Betancourt sent an RBI single into center after fouling a ball off his foot. Pinch-runner Luis Hernandez went to second on a passed ball and scored on Maier’s two-out single.
Manship, 1-1, departed with two on and one out in the sixth inning. The Royals plated three runs, two on a single by light-hitting Luis Hernandez, before relievers Jesse Crain and Ron Mahay ended the inning.
So, yes, the Royals made the Twins and the crowd of 40,223 sweat a little before Manship could celebrate his first major-league victory.
More than a little, really.
The Royals added two more runs in the eighth inning against Bobby Keppel and José Mihares. Maier had a two-run single against Mihares before Matt Guerrier struck out Billy Butler and retired Brayan Peña on a fly to center.
That was it, though. The Royals, as usual, did little in the ninth against Twins closer Joe Nathan, who recorded his club-record 46th save in 51 opportunities.
“It was good that we didn’t fold up,” Hillman said. “In this situation -- with three games left and everything (the Twins) have on the line and the excitement of the crowd in seeing Detroit losing to Chicago -- it would have been real easy for these guys to shut it down. And they didn’t.
“I’m very encouraged by that. It showed a lot of character to continue to fight and try to win the ballgame.”
DiNardo gave up seven runs and seven hits in one-plus inning. After a fine season at Class AAA Omaha, he concluded his five-start September audition at 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA.
“Not so good,” he said. “Not so good at all. I didn’t locate, My command suffered from the beginning. When it was in the zone, it seemed like it was up and over the plate. Why that is? I don’t know.”
Young matched a career high with five RBIs in pacing Minnesota’s 12-hit attack. He had a single and a run-scoring fielder’s choice in addition to his grand slam.
Kubel added an RBI single to his 25th homer. Orlando Cabrera went three for five in extending his hitting streak to 13 games. Batting leader Joe Mauer went one for four with a walk.
The loss dropped the Royals to 65-95 and kept them tied with Cleveland in the battle to avoid last place in the American League Central Division. The Indians close the season with two more games in Boston.
The Royals produced 14 hits with contributions from 11 different players. Maier led the attack with two hits and three RBIs. And seven runs? The Royals will take that today with Greinke.
“We’ll take that every day, for sure,” Maier said. “We’ve still got two games. If we play like we did tonight (in the comeback), we’ll be all right.” To reach Bob Dutton, send e-mail to email@example.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.