For a few minutes, it looked as though it would be another storybook ending for the Twins, who had just gotten a masterful performance from recently embattled starter Nick Blackburn.
Then, a pitcher with an even greater inner fight -- closer Matt Capps -- stepped on the mound and undid all of Blackburn's hard work, replaying instead a recurring Capps-infused nightmare.
With two outs in the top of the ninth and a runner on second, Capps unleashed a 0-1 fastball that was supposed to move in but never did, and the Royals' Eric Hosmer lifted the flat, across-the-plate offering over the center field fence to carry Kansas City to a 2-1 victory at Target Field.
"It was a very tough loss," under-the-weather manager Ron Gardenhire said after a game in which Ben Revere scored a fourth-inning run and the Twins flubbed several late-inning opportunities. "We had the lead, Capper made a bad pitch -- the ball was up and the guy crushed it."
But the one really getting crushed is Capps, who blew his seventh save in 22 chances and was booed off the field for the fourth consecutive home outing.
The worst of the carnage started June 2, when the righthander unraveled a three-run, ninth-inning lead at home against Milwaukee with a five-hit, four-run implosion. In his next two outings, both at Target Field, he had to be taken out for Glen Perkins with baserunners on, unable to finish the job.
It looked as though Capps was on the rebound in Chicago -- he pitched three scoreless innings and gave up only one hit in the four-game series against the White Sox prior to the All-Star break. But Friday, his home woes continued.
After the game, a somber Capps lifted his bowed head and rose from the chair facing his locker to face the media.
"I don't know that I've ever struggled like this, but it's about making pitches and I haven't been doing that," he said.
"Struggled" would be putting it mildly. But when reporters hinted to a replacement, Gardenhire was quick to jump to Capps' defense -- and seemed eager to end the discussion.
"Please don't go there tonight," he snapped. "The guy gave up a lead and now you want to chop people's heads off. We scored one run tonight, all right? We had plenty of chances to score more. Everything gets thrown on the closer -- sure he gave it up in the end, but a lot of people misfired too. The young man's a very good pitcher and our closer. And we give him the ball and we have all the trust in the world in him."
Gardenhire did not unequivocally say that Capps would remain in that role indefinitely. Friday's carnage followed a flawless eighth inning produced by Joe Nathan, who lost his closer's role in mid-April before going on the disabled list because of a right flexor muscle strain.
From the time he was made the closer in April until the end of June, Capps had a 13 saves in 17 attempts and a 3.46 ERA. But he has floundered since then. Meanwhile, Nathan has looked like his former self, with a 1.23 ERA in eight outings since coming off the DL, including three hits, no walks and seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.
Still, no move appears evident.
"I'm battling my tail off," Capps said. "It's been a rough year. I don't know. I appreciate the support I do get and all I can say is I'm going to keep grinding, I'm not giving up, I'm not going to quit on the team."
As long as the team doesn't quit on him.