Rally falls short as homers, sloppy play doom Twins in 9-8 loss
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Seven runs in the late innings weren't enough for the Minnesota Twins to overcome a rocky start by Scott Baker, mistakes on the basepaths and one nightmarish inning in the field on Thursday night.
With the way they played for six innings, it's tough to argue the Twins even deserved to have a chance.
Denard Span set the tone by missing a hit-and-run sign in the first inning, leading to a double-play grounder by Matt Tolbert. The Kansas City Royals blasted back-to-back homers in the top of the second off Baker, then extended their lead to seven amid the Twins' three-error gong show in the sixth before hanging on to win 9-8 and avoid a sweep at Target Field.
"Probably as sloppy as we've played in a long time," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Missed some plays -- I don't remember the last time we had a defensive ballgame as bad as that one. Baserunning pretty bad, too. ... A rough night there."
Yet the Twins (35-25) made it a game, scoring five runs in the seventh inning and two in the ninth to get Michael Cuddyer to the plate with two outs and the potential tying run on first.
Cuddyer lined Royals closer Joakim Soria's first pitch to right fielder David DeJesus, sealing the Twins' fate, and slammed his helmet to the ground as he reached first base.
There was plenty to be frustrated about.
By the time Baker exited after five innings, the Royals (25-36) had scored five runs on eight hits -- including a two-run blast by Mitch Maier that Wilson Betemit followed with a solo shot, both on sliders Baker left up in the strike zone.
"It was a battle to get the ball down, but that happens sometimes," Baker said. "Sometimes, you're not locating real well, and they put some good swings on the ball. ... They didn't miss a lot of balls up."
Kansas City extended its lead during an ugly sixth in which sure-handed shortstop Nick Punto -- who hadn't committed an error since last July 26 and never had committed two in a game -- mishandled consecutive grounders and second baseman Matt Tolbert booted another, pushing across three unearned, two-out runs against reliever Jesse Crain to make it 8-1.
It was the Twins' first three-error inning July 26, 2003.
"It was an atrocious inning, really, and cost us the game," Punto said. "It's tough. It was nice to battle back, it was a lot of fun. But to lose a game like that defensively, it's hard to swallow."
Punto also combined with Span to run the Twins out of a run in the third inning by failing to cross home plate before Span was doubled off second base on Joe Mauer's flyout.
Span said he didn't think Royals center fielder Mitch Maier would catch the drive, leading to the confusion as Span nearly overran Punto, who was tagging at third base.
"Me and Scotty (Ullger, the third-base coach) were yelling at Denard," Punto said, admitting many in the Twins' dugout didn't know the rule.
"I figured a double play was a double play, but it isn't. You can go ahead and touch home plate there and you get the run."
All of that had the Twins left for dead until the seventh, when they pounded out six hits -- five singles and a double by Punto -- to score five runs and pull within two.
Cuddyer, who finished 0-for-5, popped out with a man on to end that threat, too. Betemit then gave the visitors what proved to be the winning run by homering off reliever Brian Duensing in the top of the ninth -- pushing the lead to 9-6 and becoming the first Royals player since 2002 to homer from both sides of the plate in a single game.
A scratch hit by Span started the Twins' mini-rally in the ninth, with Mauer doubling in one run and Justin Morneau singling in another before Cuddyer lined out to end it.
That dashed the final hopes of a sweep for the Twins, who now head into a stretch of 15 interleague games in 17 days, beginning Friday night against Atlanta. Left-hander Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.10) is scheduled to face Braves righty Tim Hudson (6-1, 2.44) in the series opener.