– Kevin Correia pitched so well Monday, he earned the right, his manager said, to stay in the game until he lost it.

Not that Ron Gardenhire ever believed that Correia actually would.

But the 84 effective pitches Correia threw in the first seven innings, the Twins’ best start of the season’s first week, were undone by three bad ones in the eighth, and the Royals pounced on the mistakes to rally for three runs and hand Minnesota a 3-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium.

“That’s his ballgame. To let somebody else come in and give up his run is really not good. Plus, he still had great stuff,” Gardenhire said after the Twins fell to 0-3 in home openers — their own and the Orioles’ and Royals’. “He was eating them up pretty good. We had all the confidence that he could get the outs. You’ve got to give him that [chance].”

Especially since Correia hadn’t allowed a Royal to reach third base since the second inning, hadn’t surrendered a run in his past nine innings of work, hadn’t even given up an extra-base hit all season.

“There was no reason not to go back out there,” the 32-year-old righthander said.

There was no reason to believe Lorenzo Cain would drive a hanging slider to the right-center warning track, either, but that leadoff double suddenly shook up Correia’s machine-like march through the Kansas City lineup. He had faced only one batter over the minimum during the previous five innings, recording 11 of those 15 outs on the ground, but now the tying run was on second, and after Chris Getz’s sacrifice, third.

Up stepped Alex Gordon, and the spell was broken. With the infield in and an 0-1 count, Correia tried a fastball that was meant to back Gordon off the plate.

“It just ran back over the middle,” Correia said. “I tried to throw a two-seamer in, and it didn’t stay in. If you’re going to throw that one, you’ve got to miss inside.”

Gordon struck a line drive that second baseman Brian Dozier might have handled had the infield been back. But in trying to cut off the run, Dozier was unable to reach the hot smash, and Correia’s masterpiece was ruined. And his next pitch made it worse. Gordon headed for second on a hit-and-run, and shortstop Alcides Escobar sliced a fastball down the right-field line.

Gordon never slowed around third base, and when Chris Parmelee’s relay throw sailed over Dozier’s head, he scored unchallenged.

“It just sailed a little bit on me. I’ve got to get my throw down,” said Parmelee, who then fielded another hit, this one by Billy Butler, that provided Kansas City with an insurance run.

“That’s a hell of a job by Escobar to put the bat on the ball, and he shot it right in the right place. If we hit the cutoff man there, we’ve got a real good shot at throwing the guy [out] at home plate,” Gardenhire said. “So [we needed] a little execution on our part. But Correia … that’s a hell of an effort.”

One that was matched by Royals starter Ervin Santana, however. The former Angel righthander allowed four hits in the first inning, but only one run. It was the first time all year the Twins have scored first, but they never tacked on another. Santana allowed only four more hits over his next seven innings, and Aaron Crow pitched the ninth for a save.

That’s not the stat that Gardenhire couldn’t believe, though. “That’s a great performance by our starting pitcher, and it’s unfortunate that he gets an ‘L’ for that,” he said. “We’ll take that every game.”