KANSAS CITY, MO. – The Twins saw what was going on in the fourth inning Thursday night and tried to get Tyler Duffey to calm down.
“We sent the catcher out,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We sent the pitching coach out. We sent players in there. We were just trying to get him back to where he could slow it down a little bit.”
But the inning was going down the drain. The Royals made their move, knocked Duffey out of the game and went on to win 8-1 to open a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium. The big blow was a grand slam by Alex Gordon that helped the defending World Series champions win their fifth consecutive game and climb over .500 for the first time since July 22.
After going 3-0 with a 3.79 ERA in his first three August starts, including a victory over the Royals at Target Field on Saturday, Duffey looked like he was going to continue that run when he retired the first 10 batters he faced Thursday. Instead, he left trailing 5-1, marking the ninth time this season he has given up at least five earned runs in a game.
And after rolling into Kansas City 16-8 over their past 24 road games, the Twins fell to 0-4 at Kauffman this season.
Kansas City righthander Dillon Gee gave up a leadoff homer to Brian Dozier, but that was it for the Twins offense. Gee pitched seven innings, giving up five hits and one walk while striking out seven.
The 25-year-old Duffey can be an emotional fellow. He has been seen yelling at himself for not executing pitches, and sometimes it snaps him back into focus. But he seemed more nervous than angry Thursday.
“I tried to adjust by being better,” Duffey said, “but ultimately, I made it worse.”
Duffey (8-9) coasted into the fourth inning, having thrown 30 pitches through three innings without getting anywhere near a three-ball count. Paulo Orlando struck out to begin the fourth, but Cheslor Cuthbert followed with a single.
And just like that, Duffey could no longer find the strike zone.
He walked Lorenzo Cain to put two batters on. Eric Hosmer hit a 3-2 pitch back to Duffey, who forced out Cain at second. The Twins nearly had Hosmer at first for an inning-ending double play, but after looking at the replay they decided not to challenge.
Duffey then walked Kendrys Morales to load the bases. Pitching coach Neil Allen came out to talk to the righthander, but Duffey followed that by plunking Salvador Perez on the back of his shoulder, forcing in the tying run.
Gordon came to the plate with an eight-game hitting streak. And after Duffey fell behind 3-1 in the count, Gordon clubbed a pitch into the seats in right-center for his third career grand slam and a 5-1 Royals lead. Duffey then walked Alcides Escobar before Twins manager Paul Molitor emerged from the dugout with the hook. Duffey went from no three-ball counts to five in one inning.
Once in the clubhouse, Ervin Santana and Hector Santiago told Duffey the same thing: He needed to slow his delivery.
“I know what I did,” Duffey said. “I talked to Hector about it when I came out of the game. It’s one of those things where you have to slow down. I’ve been better about it, but it was one of those times where I wasn’t.”
The Royals added three runs in the eighth; two scored when center fielder Eddie Rosario threw wildly to third and another came in when left fielder Robbie Grossman terribly misread a fly ball that fell in for a double. Molitor has not been happy with the outfield defense of late.
But most of the damage happened when Duffey let his emotions get the best of him.
“For Tyler,” Molitor said, “it’s just one of those things where he’s got to keep learning.”