KANSAS CITY, MO. – Officially, the Twins and Royals split their day-night doubleheader on Saturday. But really, the Twins won this round of Debut Derby.
Felix Jorge, the first Twins starting pitcher to go straight from Class AA to the majors in 16 years, shrugged off a first-inning homer, pitched five solid innings and earned his first big-league victory, 10-5 in Kauffman Stadium.
"It was a nice performance," said a relieved Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose team had lost five of its past six games. "He didn't seem overly fazed by anything — his first game, the home run, the celebration afterward."
Jorge's success, which included two strikeouts and two double-play grounders, was significantly better than the welcome-to-the-majors scruff-up of Royals rookie Luke Farrell in the first game. The righthander, son of Red Sox manager John Farrell, who was in the crowd to watch, forced in a pair of runs with bases-loaded walks, surrendered a tape-measure blast to Miguel Sano and departed after giving up five runs while retiring only eight hitters. But the Royals erased the loss from Farrell's record by pounding Jose Berrios and two Twins relievers to win the day's first game 11-6.
The split kept the AL Central standings frozen, since first-place Cleveland and fourth-place Detroit also split a pair. Minnesota, which avoided dropping to .500 with the second-game win, trails the Indians by two games, while Kansas City, winner of 14 of its past 20, is three games back.
Sano's home run in the first game was a moon shot, estimated at 461 feet. His blast in support of fellow Dominican Jorge in the second game rocketed even farther, landing among the patrons in a bar above the seats in left-center, somewhere close to 500 feet away. The twin starbursts made Sano the seventh Twin, and first since Justin Morneau in 2009, to rack up 20 home runs before the All-Star break.
Sano is assured of traveling to Miami next week to join the midseason festivities. Jorge is all but assured of traveling to Minneapolis later this season or next to join the Twins' rotation.
"He looks different than he did in spring training. We didn't see the velocity that we did tonight," Molitor said of Jorge, the first Twins starter since Brad Thomas in 2001 to jump straight from Class AA, and the first since Andrew Albers in this ballpark in 2013 to win his big-league debut. "I think he gained a lot of confidence. He'll go back and get ready, and wait for that next call when we need him."
Jorge threw 85 pitches, 54 of them strikes, and after his shaky first inning he routinely worked out of trouble. The second batter Jorge faced, Jorge Bonifacio, doubled to deep center field, and he then left a 95-mph fastball high in the strike zone, where Eric Hosmer drove it five rows deep into the left-field seats.
"Mainly that I missed the pitch. The catcher called inside, and I missed the pitch," the 23-year-old said through an interpreter. "I was a little nervous, I won't lie. I just concentrated on just me and the catcher. I tried not to look around — there were a lot of people. I tried to concentrate on him."
Must have worked, because Jorge overcame his mistakes after that.
Jorge's night ended with a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain in the sixth, and Cain eventually scored when Buddy Boshers surrendered a home run to Jorge Soler. But Minnesota's bullpen closed out the Royals, and its offense, led by Sano's long homer, two RBI doubles from Jason Castro, and a career-high five-hit night from Eddie Rosario, provided plenty of support.
That offense couldn't score enough to make a winner of Berrios in the first game, though, despite taking leads of 5-1 and 6-5. Once Farrell departed, the Royals bullpen held the Twins to one run, allowing Kansas City to rally.
Berrios allowed at least one hit in all five innings he pitched, and three of them were 400-foot-plus blasts. Mike Moustakas smashed his 22nd homer of the season in the fourth, light-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar added a two-run shot moments later, and Brandon Moss clubbed one 474 feet to right field in the fifth.