Swings dictate the outcome of virtually every game. That was no exception when the Kansas City Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Target Field to take a 2-1 series victory and again move onto the brink of .500 for the season at 67-68.

However, in this case, it was two swings in the same plate appearance that sent the Twins to defeat — their 65th of the season — and, at the close of business Sunday, prevented them from expanding their 1.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.

The Twins took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth, handed it back with two runs in the top of the sixth and again took it back with two runs in their half of the inning. With two outs, a 1-2 count and his team clinging to a 4-3 lead, reliever Alan Busenitz delivered a breaking ball well out of the strike zone to Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

We can be sure he didn’t take a full swing, but all hell broke loose when home plate umpire Marty Foster appealed to first base umpire Mike Muchlinski, who ruled Cain didn’t even take a half-swing.     

Twins manager Paul Molitor immediately sprang to the top step of the dugout, and began gesturing demonstrably toward Foster, who threw the skipper out with the fuse of a discount firecracker.

On the telecast, it’s hard to discern what exactly Molitor said to draw the ire of Foster. There are magic words — we’re all adults here — that can get a person run out of the game in an instant, but the field mics didn’t pick up any of those. What it appears Molitor was saying was that Foster should have made the call on his own, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom since the home plate umpire has to judge depth and height of the pitch, making a swing somehow an easier call for an umpire some 100 feet away.

“Obviously I thought he went too far,” Molitor said after the game. “It’s pretty simple. Marty must not have gotten a good look at it, so he turned it over and we didn’t get the call. With the game on the line, I thought he went quite far enough to get the call. But we didn’t make pitches after that. We had chances after that, but we couldn’t push across that tying run.”   

Regardless of Molitor’s comments, it’s hard to argue against him being upset about the call, however:

With the reprieve granted, Cain did the impossible on the next pitch. He hit a baseball to center field that Byron Buxton could not catch, driving home a pair of runs while also being thrown out at the plate trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park home run.  

With all that considered, the Twins still didn’t take care of business the rest of the way when opportunities were presented. Lefty Scott Alexander set the Twins down in order in the bottom of the seventh, and Mitch Garver lined to center with runners on the corners and two outs against Mike Minor to end the eighth.

The Twins also had chances in the ninth against fill-in closer Brandon Maurer, who has electric stuff but came in with a season ERA of 5.83 — including 6.14 in the month-plus he’s spent with the Royals.  

Eduardo Escobar reached second base when Alex Gordon made a rare error in left to lead off the ninth. Chris Gimenez attempted to bunt him to third, and ended up striking out swinging before Ehire Adrianza hit for Niko Goodrum and flew out to left. Brian Dozier followed that with a popup to second on an 0-2 pitch, and the Twins dropped a series against a team whose playoff chances are on life support at home.

If the Twins don’t make the postseason, that could end up being a series that gets looked back on as a missed opportunity.

Ervin Santana and Ian Kennedy were the starting pitchers, and both pitched acceptably if not particularly well. Santana handed the reins over to Busenitz after allowing four earned runs in 6.2 innings, while Kennedy handed it over to Scott Alexander while doing the same (just two runs were earned) one inning earlier.

“He was pretty good,” Molitor said of Santana. “I thought he attacked. You could tell he was really confident pitching in for the most part. We had some trouble getting going against Kennedy. We hit some balls good, but until we got the home run from Esco…it was unfortunate that we were barely out in the field before they recaptured the lead. With the hit and the homer, I think it was three pitches.”  

Buxton was the only Twin with multiple hits, including a triple early in the game as well as a single which pushed his season line to .257/.320/.417. That’s not going to make anyone think he’s a Triple Crown contender by any means, but he came into the second half hitting .216/.288/.306 — a significant improvement across all three spots.

Escobar also poked his 15th home run — and third in the last two days. He’s already above his previous career-high in homers (12 in 2015) and he’s just two RBIs away from setting a new personal best in that respect as well.

Notes and Quotes

  • The ejection was Molitor’s second of the season.
  • The Royals improved to 6-9 against the Twins on the season with the win.
  • The Twins have nine triples over their last nine games, per the game notes.
  • The Twins announced an attendance of 89,715 for the weekend series against the Royals — the third-best three-game set of the season (Boston, New York).
  • Molitor on the umpires all day: “I’m not going to talk about it too much. Those guys are out there and they have a tough job. They’re working at it. You’re just not always going to agree with everything they do.”
  • Molitor on the loss testing the team’s resiliency: “Yeah, you know…it’s not a series where total runs matter. We lost two tough games by one run, sandwiched around a really nice effort by our guys yesterday. We’ll hop on the plane, and you try to learn from each and every game. We’ll be ready for Tampa tomorrow night.”   

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