KANSAS CITY, MO. – The Twins took off for Cleveland on Sunday with every right to wish the Royals good riddance.
“This is a team that’s played us exceptionally tough,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They’ve beat us up a little bit at times even, and to be able to come out on top and go out on a high note was good for our guys.”
Maybe it’s fitting that the Twins escaped with a 5-4 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in the teams’ final meeting of the regular season. The series included several tense games, and this was one of them.
The Twins jumped to a 4-0 lead only for Kansas City to claw back with two runs in the third and one in the seventh. Nelson Cruz blasted a 99 mph fastball from Trevor Rosenthal over the center field wall in the ninth, and that ended up being a big run because the Royals got an RBI single from Maikel Franco in the bottom of the inning before Taylor Rogers closed the door for his sixth save.
Kansas City is only 11-17, but it traded blows with the Twins and split the season series 5-5. Six games were decided by two or fewer runs, and each team scored 38 runs in the 10 games.
Three Twins pitchers were injured while facing Kansas City. Two were hit by line drives, including Tyler Clippard on Sunday.
“Yeah, our guys dealt with very high-stress situations time and time again today,” Baldelli said. “There was nothing that came easy, I think, for either team.”
The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI double by Miguel Sano — his seventh straight game with an extra-base hit — and an RBI single by Eddie Rosario. Marwin Gonzalez doubled with the bases loaded in the fourth, scoring two for a 4-0 lead.
There were still two runners on base and no outs and the Royals bullpen was up. But just when it looked as if the Twins would break the game open against lefthander Kris Bubic, they made three consecutive outs. One was a missile by Jake Cave that was stabbed by Hunter Dozier at first that would have scored two runs.
The Twins went only 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position. They entered the game leading the majors with a .307 average in those situations.
Righthander Sean Poppen nearly got out of the seventh in a matchup with the top of the Royals order, but Dozier reached with a two-out single, and Sergio Romo entered to face slugger Jorge Soler. Romo walked Soler, and Franco followed with a line drive that popped out of the glove of Gonzalez at third and into left field for an RBI single.
Romo got through the rest of the inning but swore at himself as he left the field. The Twins, however, were relieved and praised the work of the rookie Poppen, who got five outs in a big spot. And it paid off in the end.
“We’ve been talking a lot to Sean and doing different drills with him and putting him in, whatever you want to call it, these situations in his bullpen [sessions] and putting him through these and getting him to visualize them,” Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “Learning how to breathe in those situations and being able to come in and execute the slider the way he did today is something we have been working on a lot.”
Next up is Cleveland, which dropped three of four games to the Twins at Target Field on July 30-Aug. 2. The only Twins player who could be sad to leave Kansas City is Cruz, who has hit six of his 10 home runs against the Royals. But he’s ready for the next series.
“Definitely, we’re excited,” Cruz said. “We’re looking forward to playing our rivals. They’re the guys who always play good. Definitely, it’s something we’re looking for.”