KANSAS CITY, MO. – The dazzling gap hits from Byron Buxton, the monster home run from Kennys Vargas, the critical run-scoring hits from Miguel Sano and Max Kepler — this was the formula the Twins dreamed about during spring training, back when another big step forward seemed plausible. An army of still-developing youngsters, none older than 26, winning competitive games against the defending world champs.
It hasn’t worked out that way, not by a long shot. Quite the opposite, in fact. But that young corps always will have Thursday night’s 7-6 victory — their first in 10 tries at Kauffman Stadium all year — as a lonely souvenir of a season in the ditch.
Even if it took one of the unlikeliest plays of all to close it out.
Brandon Kintzler, who last picked off a runner in 2012, surprised Terrance Gore, the Royals’ baserunning specialist who never had been picked off, with a quick move to first. Umpire Todd Tichenor missed it, but video replay officials overturned his call and declared the game over.
“Obviously I know he’s going, so I just tried to mix up his timing, make some head fakes, maybe catch him leaning,” said Kintzler, who recorded his 16th save of the season. “I got him leaning just enough. I thought we had him, but you never know what replay is going to say.”
Their reversal allowed Kintzler to escape a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the ninth, and the Twins to win for only the second time in 12 games, putting off, for at least one more day, a record-setting 103rd loss.
“That one would have hurt. I definitely would have felt like I let the team down right there,” Kintzler said of his adventurous ninth inning.
Only after facing Eric Hosmer with the bases loaded, though. The Twins scored three runs in the ninth to break open a tie game, with Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Robbie Grossman, Sano and Kepler all contributing big hits. The Twins’ seven runs, in fact, were their most since scoring eight against Detroit on Sept. 13, and broke their franchise-record single-season streak of 11 consecutive games with three runs or fewer.
But Kintzler immediately loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, walking Whit Merrifield to bring Hosmer to the plate as the winning run.
“In the end, [escape] is still a ground ball away,” Kintzler said. “I liked the action I was getting on my pitches. [I was] still confident in what I was doing, just a little rusty. I got out there and made a good pitch.”
Hosmer hit into a run-scoring double play, greatly relieving the Twins’ dugout, and even after Salvador Perez drove in another run with a single, bringing on Gore as the pinch runner, Kintzler was able to work his way out of trouble with a sudden pickoff move.
“I jumped out right away because it’s one of those times, when the throw’s into the runner, it seems to be your best chance to catch those guys,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We caught him leaning a little bit.”