KANSAS CITY, MO. – The phone call from Terry Ryan last December took him by surprise, Liam Hendriks said. The Twins were about to designate the Aussie righthander for assignment, meaning any team could claim him, a move the Twins general manager said he was making reluctantly.
“He said, ‘We’d love to have you back if you clear [waivers], but we just signed Phil Hughes and we need a roster spot,’ ” Hendriks said. “It’s funny how things work out.”
Actually, the Twins didn’t find it so funny Wednesday. Hendriks, making his debut as a Royal after being called up from Class AAA Omaha earlier in the day, retired the first 14 Twins he faced, allowed only four hits and one run over seven innings, and was doused by a Gatorade bath from his new teammates after Kansas City rallied for a 6-1 victory in Kauffman Stadium, the Twins’ fourth consecutive loss. Kansas City moved 2½ games in front of Detroit in the AL Central, while Minnesota fell 16 games below .500 for the first time this season.
Hendriks wasn’t credited with the victory, though he hardly minded amid the postgame celebration, because he was opposing a righthander who arguably pitched even better through those first seven innings: Hughes.
“Of course, of all the people, right?” Hendriks said, shaking his head. “Crazy.”
Coincidence aside, the Twins have no regrets about the transaction last winter — Hendriks was claimed by Toronto, who traded him to Kansas City late last month — because Hughes has turned into their most reliable pitcher, by far. And Wednesday might have been his masterpiece, even through the record shows he gave up seven hits and four runs, the most he’s allowed since July 19. Those seven hits were a motley collection of grounders that weren’t handled cleanly, bloops just out of an infielder’s reach, or — in the case of the game’s pivotal play — a bunt that didn’t get past the pitcher’s mound.
All of the Royals’ damage came in the eighth inning, after Hughes cruised through the first seven, retiring 17 of the previous 18 hitters to that point.
“It’s probably the best stuff I’ve had [during] this little run I’ve been on. I felt like I was really on — fastball command, cutter, curveball, everything was on today,” said Hughes, who had allowed exactly one run in each of his past four starts. “Which makes it disappointing, to spoil a start where you have pretty good stuff.”
It was spoiled when the Twins could only provide him with one run off Hendriks, on an Oswaldo Arcia double in the seventh. And it was spoiled when Raul Ibanez, who had popped out twice, served a soft liner into short center to lead off the eighth. After pinch runner Lorenzo Cain stole second, Mike Moustakas hit a weak grounder toward right field, into a shift that had second baseman Brian Dozier playing unusually deep. Too deep to make the play.
“He was playing too deep, that’s something we’ve talked about. We’ve got to get him to move in,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, adding that it’s the second time it’s happened.
“It’s something we’ve got to get straightened out here.”
After a pop out, the next batter, Jarrod Dyson, squared around on the first pitch, placing his bunt perfectly.
“As soon as I lifted my leg, I knew it was coming because [Dyson] didn’t look like he was going to hit. He started to square around,” Hughes said. “… If it’s executed, there isn’t much you can do about it. I’m certainly not going to be able to get over there and make some sort of flip play home. You just have to hope Dyson [doesn’t get] it down, but he did, and that’s the way it goes.”
Nori Aoki followed with a line drive to left to give the Royals the lead, and they didn’t stop. Eventually, six consecutive Royals reached base off Hughes, Brian Duensing and Casey Fien, and Hendriks — who made 28 career starts with the Twins — could begin celebrating his new home.
“That was a lot of fun. Any time you get a chance to go out against your old team, you want to do well, so it was pretty great,” said Hendriks, amid congratulations from teammates he met only hours earlier. “I’ve been throwing better this year, a little more life on my fastball, a little more movement on the sinker. And I was really pumped up today. I think I’m going to like it here.”