You could call it the story of the past two months: Just when it looks as if the Twins might fizzle into mediocrity, they find a way.
They authored that tale again Thursday, rebounding from 4 1/2 innings of sluggishness to deliver another happy ending. In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Twins beat Kansas City 8-4 at Target Field to put them six games back from the Central lead.
After the Twins struggled early, they constructed two four-run innings in the second half -- bolstered by newly reactivated Delmon Young and Trevor Plouffe -- to push them to their seventh victory in the past nine games.
"It wasn't the prettiest game we've ever played, but it was a win," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who has seen his team go from ruined to relevant this season. The last time the Twins were six games under .500 -- which they achieved Thursday -- was May 6, when their record was 12-18.
"We've been to a lot of different places and we prefer to not go back to where we were," Gardenhire said. "We're climbing a big mountain that we put ourselves at the bottom of. Every game is huge from here on out."
The first few innings were not played like it.
The Royals took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on two Twins errors -- a bobbled putout at second by Tsuyoshi Nishioka and a throwing error by Joe Mauer -- and a wild pitch by Francisco Liriano. In the fourth, the visiting team added another run, set up when Young failed to reach Mike Moustakas' fly ball.
"We looked really sloppy early in the ballgame and hopefully that's just from the layoff," Gardenhire said.
Until then, the Twins also looked discombobulated by Royals starter Bruce Chen -- whose pitches max out around 83 mph. They managed five hits in the first four innings, but strung none of them together, stranding seven.
Then, down 3-0 in the fifth, the Twins came alive. With two outs, Michael Cuddyer walked and Danny Valencia and Young responded with back-to-back doubles to score two. That brought up Plouffe. In his first two at-bats Chen beat him on cut fastballs inside. This time, he was expecting one. He launched a 1-2 pitch 412 feet for a two-run home run that wrapped just around the left field foul pole to give the Twins the 4-3 lead.
"I kind of knew it was coming and I got the barrel on it," he said. "I was screaming a lot louder inside than I was outside for it to stay fair."
Two innings later, the Twins sealed the deal when Royals reliever Blake Wood walked Revere with the bases loaded and then hit Alexi Casilla. Mauer punished him further, knocking him out of the game with a liner to center that scored two more to make it 8-3.
Liriano, who lasted seven innings and allowed just one earned run on seven hits, was coming off a poor outing in his last start, when he gave up five runs on six hits and walked four in 4 1/3 innings. On Thursday, he seemed to settle down from a rocky first inning, and get better as he went along -- something he's not always able to do.
"I was getting too excited in the first inning -- I was overthrowing, trying to be too perfect," he said. "I knew I what I was doing wrong, so I was able to calm down. Tonight was a battle out there for me ... but that's part of the game."