Trevor Plouffe hits two of Twins' four HRs in win over Royals, Chen
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Heading into Sunday, Bruce Chen had faced the Twins four times since the middle of last September, and in three of those outings he threw seven innings or more without allowing a run.
Chen cruised through the first five innings, with Plouffe's solo homer the only blemish on his card. But the Twins responded to the Royals' four-run sixth with a five-run sixth of their own against Chen.
Brian Dozier ignited things in the sixth with a leadoff triple, later scoring on a safety squeeze by Denard Span. After a walk drawn by Jamey Carroll and a single up the middle by Joe Mauer, Willingham -- left off the American League All-Star team just hours before -- blasted a three-run bomb into the bullpen to tie the game.
Willingham's home run temporarily tied him for the team lead at 17 with Plouffe, but that lead lasted just moments as Plouffe roped a solo shot -- his second of the game -- into the left-field seats to put the Twins up 6-5.
"He threw a cutter in, and he's a guy you've got to look for a zone," Plouffe said of the second home run. "He mixes his pitches up so well that the only thing you can do is look to a zone."
After the game both Plouffe and manager Ron Gardenhire expressed their frustration with Willingham not being selected to the All-Star team.
"The only thing I can say is I'm happy with the way my season has gone so far," Willingham said. "Obviously we want to keep winning as a team, and I'm happy for Joe. He deserves to go, and he's going to represent this team well."
The Twins tallied an insurance run in the seventh on an RBI single by Span, and Drew Butera joined the home-run party with a three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth -- his first of the season.
"It took us a while to get to Chen, but we finally banged some balls around off him," Gardenhire said. "Willingham with the huge home run, and Plouffe backed it up. ... and Drew added on, which turned out we needed it."
Francisco Liriano pitched his way out of trouble for the first five innings, holding the Royals to just one run. But chaos ensued in the sixth inning, where the Royals took advantage of some shoddy defense by the Twins.
With runners on first and second and one out, Liriano missed an opportunity to turn an inning-ending double play on bouncer back to the mound off the bat of Brayan Pena, who hit a hard one-hopper right back to the mound. The left-hander's custom off-balance finish after pitches had him out of position to field the ball, which deflected toward third baseman Plouffe. On the next play, first baseman Justin Morneau and right fielder Darin Mastroianni both booted the same groundball off the bat of Jason Bourgeois which allowed two runs to score.
"I should have caught that groundball back to me. But it's part of the game," Liriano said.
"I thought I had it. I was looking in my glove. ... One of those games where you don't have your best stuff and you have to go out there and battle through it."
Irving Falu greeted Liriano's replacement, Jeff Gray, with a two-RBI double to put the Royals up 5-1.
This sequence of events put an end to an otherwise respectable outing by Liriano, who allowed four earned runs on five hits and four walks while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings.
The 107 pitches thrown by Liriano were a season-high, and the most he has thrown in a game since Aug. 20.
The Royals made things interesting in the ninth by scoring three runs off Glen Perkins. Alex Gordon came to bat with two outs representing the tying run, but he grounded out to end the game.
It was an 11-pitch walk drawn by Carroll that led to the eventual game-tying home run by Willingham.
Carroll, hitting with one out and the bases empty, got ahead in the count 2-0, but wound up fouling off six pitches before finally taking a changeup off the plate for ball four.
Prior to Willingham's home run, the Twins had done relatively nothing offensively against Chen, who pounded the strike zone for most of the first five innings.
Chen got ahead 1-2 on Willingham but was unable to put him away.
"He was keeping me off-balance good and throwing it a little slower than I was able to wait on it," Willingham said. "I finally waited on one."
1: The number of times the Twins have hit four home runs in a game at Target Field.
6: The number of times Plouffe and Willingham have homered on the same day since the beginning of June. "I think it's just coincidence," Plouffe said. "I've definitely learned a lot from him this year, just about what kind of hitter I want to be and staying within myself, not trying to do things I can't do. We're both putting some balls in the seats lately."
12: Swings and misses by Royals hitters against Liriano, marking the seventh consecutive start in which he has induced 12 whiffs or more.
Closer Matt Capps (shoulder) hopes to be pitching for Single-A Fort Myers a week from Monday. He is eligible to come off the disabled list when the Twins begin second-half play on July 13.
Monday: @ Tigers, 6:05 p.m. RHP Liam Hendriks (0-5, 6.82) vs. RHP Doug Fister (1-5, 3.91)
Tuesday: @ Tigers, 6:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (4-5, 7.74) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (7-5, 4.98)
Wednesday: @ Tigers, 6:05 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (1-4, 4.10) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (8-5, 2.69)