On three separate occasions Sunday, a Twins player incited a rally by blasting a home run out of Target Field. Trevor Plouffe’s solo shot in the ninth inning was the final attempt at a decisive comeback that remained elusive all afternoon, and the Twins ultimately fell to the Kansas City Royals 9-8.

But it wasn’t hitting that cost the Twins the game. To manager Ron Gardenhire, the culprit was the very thing that made three rallies necessary in the first place.

“We gave the ballgame away early,” Gardenhire said. “You saw no errors on the board, and this is one of those games, if you look back on it, we threw to the wrong base. We weren’t smart with our defense, didn’t know who was running at least twice. We gave them runs early.”

In the third inning, a hopping Pedro Florimon bobbled the ball, resulting in a slow throw to first that could have been an easy out. Instead, Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain reached base, and the Royals scored twice in the inning to take a 2-1 lead.

Chris Parmelee also had a couple of misplays in right field, including a poor decision on David Lough’s two-run double in the fourth inning.

“I didn’t do my job today,” a visibly frustrated Parmelee said after the game. “There’s really no explanation for it, other than I screwed up and threw to the wrong base.”

Gardenhire didn’t have any complaints about his hitters following Sunday’s game. The Twins scored eight runs, five of which came on homers from Clete Thomas, Justin Morneau and Plouffe. The only offensive red flag was the continued slump of Joe Mauer, who came into the game hitting .467 against Royals starting pitcher Ervin Santana, yet finished the game 0-for-5 and is in an 0-for-16 slump.

The Twins, however, couldn’t overlook their defensive mistakes.

The outlook was good for them early, as Kevin Correia — who came into the day with a first-inning ERA of 6.60 — got out of the first unscathed and the second as well.

But the righthander gave up three hits in each of the third and fourth innings, and the Royals led 5-1 after four. He gave up seven hits and five earned runs in five innings, and walked three while striking out three.

The Twins bullpen came into the game with a 2.87 ERA — third-best in major league baseball — but the relievers struggled to stay composed Sunday.

After Correia’s five innings of work, Twins relievers gave up an additional four runs. Jared Burton, who took the loss to fall to 1-5, gave up a go-ahead homer to Lough in the eighth after the Twins had tied the score at 7-7, and Josh Roenicke gave up a solo shot to Eric Hosmer in the ninth. Ryan Pressly also gave up three hits and two runs in two innings.

“We had a lot of hits, I think, between me and the bullpen that weren’t well-struck, but they ended up getting in spots to keep the rally going or get on base and start a rally,” Correia said. “We scored eight runs. That should be enough to win the game.”

But Correia knows well, especially after a game that seemed winnable so many times, that there’s much more to baseball than a team’s performance at the plate.

“We barely lost that game. If you score eight, it comes down to pitching and defense,” he said. “If you lose a one-run game, you look back and those are definitely going to be what frustrates you.”