KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Too aggressive on the bases. Not aggressive enough at the plate. No matter what the Twins did Wednesday, it backfired.
Minnesota lost three base- runners in the space of four outs, then looked at strike three with runners in scoring position three times, a toxic combination that produced an ugly 3-2 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
“You’ve got to put the ball in play somewhere,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire groused about his team’s 11 strikeouts — especially the six that came with runners on second or third base. “You’ve got to make them make a play on you, and when you strike out, you don’t.”
Actually, the Royals made plenty of plays, snuffing Twins rallies by catching them off guard. Eduardo Nunez was picked off first base by All-Star catcher Salvador Perez in the third inning, and Sam Fuld, after leading off the fourth inning with a single, was nabbed by pitcher Danny Duffy with a 3-0 count on Brian Dozier, the next batter.
“The guy’s really quick over there to first base, but the 3-0 one, that’s inexcusable,” Gardenhire said. “Three balls and no strikes, you can’t get picked off, I don’t care how quick he is.”
Fuld agreed, but “I don’t know if I blinked or what,” he said. “It seemed like the ball was there before I even knew it.”
But that didn’t end the base-running mistakes. After Dozier and Willingham walked, they successfully executed a double steal, setting the Twins up for a big inning. As he slid into third, however, Dozier saw the ball squirt away from Mike Moustakas and roll into short left field. Dozier make an instinctive, and rally-killing, decision.
“I tried to make an aggressive play, I tried to put the team up 2-0,” he said. “I saw [Moustakas] running after it, and I knew I could beat him.”
Dozier, who didn’t hear coach Scott Ullger yelling, “Stay! Stay!” jumped up and sprinted to the plate. But Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was backing up the play and threw home, where Dozier was an easy out.
“Once I was out, I thought, ‘Moose is faster than I thought,’ ” Dozier said. “But they said Escobar got it. I didn’t see him.”
None of those goofs would have mattered if Willingham’s long homer to left field and Danny Santana’s RBI single had been enough offense for Phil Hughes. But the righthander, after choking off Kansas City’s offense on just three harmless singles through five innings, abruptly got pummeled in the sixth inning, giving up a single and three RBI doubles. The three-run inning, only the Royals’ second in more than a week, was enough to beat the Twins.
Not that they didn’t have plenty more chances. Minnesota put its first two batters on in the sixth, and loaded the bases with two outs, a rally that ended when Chris Colabello looked at a third-strike fastball. The Twins had runners at second and third with one out in the seventh, but Kelvin Herrera whiffed Dozier and Willingham on 101 mph lasers.
And with closer Greg Holland battling through a 28-pitch ninth, Nunez reached second base with one out, and third base with two. But Santana took a 3-2 slider high in the strike zone, and Fuld took a 3-2 slider at the knees.
“Any time you lose a battle like that, it’s frustrating,” Fuld said. “You have to tip your cap to Holland — he made a great pitch there.”