KANSAS CITY, MO. – Trevor Hildenberger threw a 2-2 changeup to Drew Butera with two on and two out in the seventh inning Sunday. Butera poked it toward center field, and Jake Cave immediately knew how he wanted to play it.
“If I would’ve made the decision to get it on the short hop I’d have to be fully committed,” Cave said. “I chose the other decision. When I first made the read, I thought I had a chance for it. I was just trying to make a play for my pitcher out there, and it went in the wrong direction.”
And what ensued punctuated the Twins’ weekend of woe in the City of Fountains. Cave dashed in and went airborne after the sinking fly — but failed to come up with the ball. Butera ended up with a three-run, inside-the-park homer that was the difference in a 5-3 loss that sealed a three-game sweep by the Royals.
While right fielder Max Kepler raced to retrieve the ball against the wall, Butera, the 34-year-old former Twin now in his fourth season backing up Salvador Perez, rumbled around the bases to become the first Kansas City catcher since Brent Mayne in 1991 with an inside-the-park home run.
The gut-punching play broke a 2-2 tie. Kepler homered in the eighth inning, but the Twins got no closer. Royals righthander Wily Peralta, pitching for the third day in a row, got through the ninth for his fourth save.
The momentum the Twins built during a 9-2 homestand before the All-Star break has ceased to exist after three clunkers against the team with the second-worst record in baseball. It’s hard to take a team’s resolve to find a way back in a division race seriously when it can’t win one game from one of the league’s doormats.
While Butera was being doused with ice water during his postgame interview on the field, the Twins slowly made their way to their clubhouse.
The Twins have lost nine consecutive road games and 12 of 13 road games overall. This series was the start of a 10-game road trip that continues in Toronto and Boston, and those games could provide more examples of why this is not the Twins’ year.
“It’s disappointing,” manager Paul Molitor said. “You kind of recharge your mind-set and feel good coming back and come in here and stumble. It’s a pretty significant stumble and we’ll just have to get on a plane and you keep playing. That’s a given. But it wasn’t what we hoped for.”
Offensive woes contributed to 6-5 and 4-2 losses Friday and Saturday, and those continued Sunday, when the Twins had their hands full with Kansas City rookie righthander Brad Keller, who gave up three runs on three hits over seven-plus innings.
The Twins scored twice in the fourth only to have the Royals tie the score in the fifth. Twins righthander Jake Odorizzi pitched six strong innings before yielding to lefthander Zach Duke for the seventh.
Duke gave up a leadoff single to Lucas Duda, recorded two outs but then walked Alcides Escobar. Molitor brought in Hildenberger, who threw two balls to Butera before rallying to even the count.
“Falling behind 2-0 doesn’t help,” Hildenberger said. “When you get to 2-2, you’ve got to throw it closer to the strike zone.”
Hildenberger’s changeup has flummoxed hitters all season, but Butera got enough of the pitch to shoot it toward Cave in center — and shake up the game.
“Tried to make a play,” Molitor said of Cave. “I give him credit, he didn’t back off. Took a chance.
“Butera circles the bases. That’s kind of how the series went. Small margins sometimes.”