KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Paul Molitor laughed before Sunday’s game at the notion that the Twins have one of the easiest down-the-stretch schedules among AL wild-card contenders.
“I find it a little bit comical,” the Twins manager said. “We’ve got 19 games left. Last time I checked, they’re all against major league teams.”
The Royals, who haven’t had a winning record in a couple of weeks, needed a span of only 16 pitches in the second inning to prove his point. Beginning with a 2-2 fastball to Eric Hosmer that registered 92 mph, the hardest pitch Bartolo Colon threw all day, Kansas City ambushed the Twins’ 44-year-old starter, swinging at almost every pitch he threw to rack up three singles, three doubles and six runs.
Colon’s shortest non-injury-related start in more than six years — he retired only five of the 11 batters he faced — set the tone for a deflating 11-3 workover by the Royals and a humbling 3-4 road trip against sub-.500 Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Royals put their leadoff hitter on base in six consecutive innings, kept the pressure on the entire day, and handed Minnesota its most lopsided loss since June.
“It was incredible. I recognized what they were trying to do from about the third batter, so we tried to mix it up,” said catcher Chris Gimenez. “But let’s face it, [the Royals] can be pretty scary. They can hit, and when they get hot, they’re really hard to stop.”
Hosmer in particular.
“We didn’t get Hosmer out, it felt like, the whole series,” Molitor complained, and he’s nearly correct. The Royals’ first baseman collected four hits Sunday, including two doubles, and 11 hits in the four-game series, boosting him to a .328 average, second best in the American League. His total of 30 hits against the Twins this season is just two fewer than the franchise record against Minnesota, set by another Royal: George Brett in 1976.
And it was Hosmer who triggered the Royals’ romp, zeroing in on that Colon fastball to set off a six-run inning.
“It’s hard to be overly definitive on why it went the way it did today,” Molitor said. “Bartolo was up in the [strike] zone more. They were being aggressive, they had a lot of first-pitch damage, and they got them in the right spots.”
One right after another, to all corners of the field. Hosmer singled to left, Salvador Perez to center, and after a Mike Moustakas flyout, Brandon Moss doubled to right. Alcides Escobar hit Colon’s first pitch up the middle for a two-run single, and Alex Gordon doubled on the very next pitch, a fastball up. When Whit Merrifield followed with another double, even Colon knew it was going to be a quick day.
“They were good pitches. I was throwing where I wanted them to be. But I throw a lot of pitches around the strike zone, and that’s why they were aggressive,” Colon said after falling to 4-4 with a 4.69 ERA as a Twin. “Today I felt amazing going out there, better than in my other starts. But it wasn’t my day.”
It only counts one game in the standings, though, and the Twins will return to Target Field still in possession of a postseason berth. On Sunday, the Angels beat the Mariners 5-3 to close within a game of the Twins while the Rangers lost to the Yankees 16-7 to remain 2½ games back along with the Royals with three weeks left to play.
The Twins open a six-game homestand against the last-place Padres and last-place Blue Jays — uh-oh, more easy victories — on Tuesday.
Kennys Vargas walked twice, doubled and launched a long ninth-inning home run, but the Twins’ offense was mostly quiet otherwise. Joe Mauer’s 18-game streak of reaching base ended with an 0-for-3 day, and the first four hitters in the Twins’ starting lineup combined to go 0-for-13.
The Royals had no such trouble against Colon, and had the Twins not turned three more double plays — giving them a season-high 11 in the series — the damage might have been worse. Rookie John Curtiss also surrendered four runs in the seventh inning, capped by a three-run homer from Brandon Moss, and Michael Tonkin gave up a run in the eighth.