KANSAS CITY, Mo. – His team had won eight of its past 10 games, and Ron Gardenhire was trying to explain the hot streak before Wednesday’s game with the Royals.
“We’ve done a better job of knocking in some of those runs that are out there,” the Twins manager said. “We’ve had two-out hits, a number of those.”
Not to quibble with his grammar, but maybe Gardenhire should have been using the past tense. Because for most of Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Kansas City — which ended the Royals’ 11-game Kauffman Stadium losing streak — the Twins failed at exactly the task they had excelled in.
Minnesota went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, twice left the bases loaded and stranded a season-high 14 runners overall, spoiling P.J. Walters’ bid at winning each of his first three starts of the season.
“You all can see that big number out there, leaving 14 guys on base,” Gardenhire said after the Twins fell to 1-5 against the last-place Royals this year. “The things we’ve been getting done lately, we didn’t do tonight.”
Like shutouts — the pitching staff’s streak of 20 scoreless innings died quickly in the first inning. And add swallowing up ground balls to that list, too.
Pedro Florimon has been nearly flawless for more than a month at shortstop, but he committed his first error since April 26 on the first ball hit to him Wednesday, Eric Hosmer’s routine ground ball. Florimon booted the ball, then picked it up but rushed his throw to first, sailing it into the Royals dugout for a two-base error. His first error in 145 chances seemed minor, perhaps harmless — but instead, it decided the game.
Well, Walters would dispute that. What decided the game, the righthander said, was how he responded to Florimon’s mistake.
“Pedro’s played great defense,” said Walters, who settled down after the first inning and never allowed another run. “After the error, I gave up a hit, walked a guy, and [Mike] Moustakas just missed a home run. I’ve got to do better than that.”
And that was before the big hit of the inning, the sort of hit the Twins could not manage. Salvador Perez’s single scored Hosmer, and walks to Billy Butler and Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with two outs. Up came David Lough, an outfielder playing only his 34th career game.
Walters delivered an 0-1 fastball “up and out over the plate,” he said. “Bad pitch.”
Lough turned it into a double, and the Royals suddenly had all the runs they needed.
Not that it ever seemed that way, not with the Twins putting runners on in seven of the nine innings.
Jeremy Guthrie, who threw 39 pitches in the first inning alone, worked in and out of trouble, allowing the first batter of the game to score — but nobody else.
The rest of his night wasn’t much smoother — except that the Twins could not capitalize on his sloppiness. They put runners on base in five of Guthrie’s six innings, two or more runners in three of them, yet never pushed across another run against him. They loaded the bases once more against the Kansas City bullpen, but Chris Herrmann, pinch-hitting for Brian Dozier, hit into a forceout.
And in the ninth, after a Joe Mauer single and a walk to Josh Willingham, they had three power hitters representing the tying run against K.C. closer Al Holland. But Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee all struck out.
“We chased some pretty bad pitches in those situations,” Gardenhire said. “[Holland] threw some pretty good forkballs. Mornie took a good rip at the first pitch, but then he got in forkball situations.”