KANSAS CITY, MO. – Fernando Romero opened the Twins’ week afield by pitching well in Seattle, but losing. Just as the Twins had hoped, he closed the road trip Wednesday by changing half of that equation in Kauffman Stadium.
The wrong half.
Romero, who had allowed a total of seven runs in his first five major-league starts, surrendered eight more in less than two innings Wednesday, and he put the Twins in a 9-0 hole they couldn’t quite escape. Minnesota rallied multiple times over four innings and once had the go-ahead run on second base before absorbing its fifth loss on this six-game trip, 11-8 to the Royals.
The Twins head home for what looms as four critical games against Cleveland, which opened a 5 ½-game lead in the AL Central while the Twins were out of town. “It’s huge,” said Brian Dozier, who homered for the first time in 16 games and sparked another rally with a two-out walk. “This one gets magnified with where they’re at, and where we are.”
Romero won’t face the Indians this weekend, which until Wednesday seemed unfortunate. But the pitcher who allowed just two runs over seven innings against the Mariners was missing in Kansas City, retiring only five of the 15 Royals he faced.
“The perils of inexperienced starters,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s mostly been good, but tonight was a hiccup. It’s always a bit concerning when you walk the first hitter on four pitches.”
Yeah, Romero noticed. “I was just missing the spots a little bit. Especially at this level, when you miss, they make you pay,” said the rookie, whose ERA ballooned from 1.88 to 4.25 in a brutal half-hour of work. “They were just hitting everything.”
But they stopped, mostly, once Aaron Slegers took the mound. The rookie was a savior for a bullpen that had been called upon frequently on the trip. Slegers gave up a walk and a two-run triple to the first two hitters he faced, but then settled down and pitched 5 ⅓ innings, giving up only one more run.
“I want to tip my hat to Aaron. We were in dire straights there,” said Molitor, who rewarded Slegers by … sending him back to Rochester after the game. Ouch. That conversation is “not pleasant,” Molitor said, “and probably while he’s out there, he knows it’s going to happen. But he’s as high-character as you can be.”
Slegers’ contribution, though, allowed the Twins to stage a four-inning comeback and threaten their record for biggest comeback. “The bats were scaring them for a little bit, and that was fun to watch,” Slegers said.
The multiple rallies started in multiple places, some of them unexpected. Bobby Wilson doubled to the wall in the third inning, and scored easily on Miguel Sano’s two-out single. An inning later, Ehire Adrianza doubled a run home. The fifth opened with Dozier’s first home run, and two outs later, the Twins tacked on another on Eduardo Escobar’s single.
A four-run inning, highlighted by Adrianza’s first homer of the season, pulled the Twins within a run, and Max Kepler came to bat with the go-ahead run on second base. But he was fooled by a 3-2 fastball and went down looking.
“I loved our energy. We were up in the dugout. We were right where we wanted to be, with the momentum shift,” Dozier said. “But we just couldn’t capitalize enough.”