Every time the Minnesota Twins punched the Kansas City Royals in the mouth on Friday night at Target Field, the Royals — 30 games under .500 when the game started — had an answer.
At least until the last time, when the Twins — 24 games over .500 coming into play — managed to eke out the last two innings and come away with an 11-9 win.
Nelson Cruz crushed, Martin Perez floundered and Sam Dyson made his home debut, which certainly didn’t go as planned.
Here’s what we saw:
1. Perez simply wasn’t at his best
Perez allowed five batted balls of at least 100 mph in his five innings of work, which comes as a surprise considering he’s been among the American League’s leaders in exit velocity against for much of this season.
This marked the third time Kansas City has seen Perez in the last six weeks, but the lefty wasn’t having any of it when asked if that might have played a role in the fact that the Royals kept clawing back and had an answer every time the Twins scored runs.
“(You’ve got to) change the plan,” Perez said. “We just need to do something different and I was trying to have a good game with these guys.
“I was missing everything and it’s hard to as a pitcher struggle with your pitches or get outs. They were able to hit the ball and they got me today.”
After the Twins took the lead on a first-inning homer from Cruz, Perez settled in with a pair of scoreless innings while his offense staked him to a 4-1 lead.
Perez gave it back and then some in the fourth and fifth innings, and actually left the game down 6-5 before his offense pushed across two runs in the bottom half of the fifth.
In the fourth inning, Hunter Dozier roped the first pitch he saw into the stands in for an opposite-field home run. Jorge Soler followed with a single, Cuthbert added one of his own and Bubba Starling bunted both runners over before Perez balked Soler home.
Perez rebounded to get the next two outs and preserve the lead, but he again was jumped by the first batter in the fifth inning, as catcher Cam Gallagher hit a moon-scraping home run just barely into the stands in left.
Dozier followed two batters later with his second home run of the night, and the book ultimately closed on Perez with five earned runs in as many innings — running his season ERA to a worrisome 4.58.
2. The offense made Glenn Sparkman pay for his mistakes
The Kansas City righty came up one out short of matching Perez’s innings output and allowed one more earned run as well. He too escaped without the decision as his offense battled back to take the lead in the top of the sixth, but all three walks Sparkman issued came around to score — Luis Arraez and Jason Castro in the second, Max Kepler in the fifth — on a night the righty would like to forget.
Sparkman has allowed 35 earned runs over his last 10 starts for a 10.03 ERA — and the Twins rode that train as well on Friday night.
The Twins were also lethal with runners in scoring position, going 7-for-14 on the night with a fair amount of that damage coming early against Sparkman.
3. The Twins benefitted from a bad missed strike call from Joe West in the seventh inning
On the seventh pitch of his seventh inning plate appearance, Kepler took a slider that appeared to catch a significant portion of the plate. Kepler slowly walked out of the box, looking back at home umpire Joe West to make sure he was calling it a ball before taking his base for his second free pass of the game.
Here’s where that pitch was:
Yeesh. Not appreciably different than a pitch called a strike earlier in the plate appearance — yet still called a ball.
West was at his usual antics all night long. He appeared to stare down Ehire Adrianza after the first baseman showed his clear displeasure at a half-swing being called a strike, and when Royals lefty Richard Lovelady left the game later in the seventh inning, West walked down the third-base line as if to give the pitcher a chance to say whatever was on his mind — which he opted not to.
Nevertheless, Kepler walked, reached third when Jorge Polanco doubled to left field and both came across to score on Cruz’s second booming double of the night off the top of the fence in right-center.
Those runs gave the Twins an 8-6 lead — one they never reqlinquished, although the Royals did make it interesting.
4. Cruz had an incredible game — and it went beyond just the box score
True enough, Cruz’s 3-for-5 night looks impressive by itself, but it’s also worth noting that the 39-year-old designate hitter went 3-for-3 with runners in scoring position, and each of his hits resulted in the Twins either tying the game or taking the lead.
His first-inning homer gave the Twins a 2-1 lead.
The first of his booming doubles — this one in the fifth inning — tied the game at five runs apiece.
And the final was the double that plated Polanco and Kepler with the runs that provided the final margin of victory, ultimately.
Not bad for a guy who basically got a three-day breather in Miami with the Twins not getting the benefit of the DH in a National League park.
Cruz didn’t seem to mind the time off — nor did his bat.
“I mean, you have to just take what they give you,” Cruz said. “In that situation, I wasn’t able to play. You just make sure you’re fresh when you get a chance to play.”
Ultimately, Cruz said, all he wants to do is win.
“Not really,” he said when asked if the interleague series came at a bad time. “I mean, I just want to win. If that’s the key, if I have to sit and we win games, I’m good with it. If we lost, I’d probably be more frustrated or disappointed. But if we win, that’s the only thing we care about.”
5. The Dyson rollercoaster continued…
After eventual winning pitcher Trevor May recorded his only out on one pitch, manager Rocco Baldelli afforded his new reliever the chance to get back on the horse after a rough first outing in Miami on Thursday afternoon.
The situation was about as clean as one can get for a high-leverage reliever — bases empty, five-run lead and at your new home park.
It did not go as planned.
Soler greeted Dyson with a hooking double into the left-field corner. Cuthbert followed with a bloop single into right center, and Starling reached on a single plus an error when Miguel Sano’s throw sailed wide of the bag at first, allowing both Cuthbert and Starling to score.
Dyson recovered to strike out Ryan O’Hearn looking and get a groundout to short off the bat of Nicky Lopez, but after Gallagher followed with a single up the middle to score Starling and make it a two-run deficit, Baldelli had seen enough and went to his other trade-deadline acquisition in Sergio Romo — who ultimately got the final four outs for his first save as a Twin.
Despite the rocky start to Dyson’s Twins tenure, Baldelli’s faith in Dyson has not wavered.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Baldell said after the game. “I mean good pitchers have a couple of games where they’re not throwing the ball the way they want to. Again, we’re talking to a guy that’s — he’s a pro so he’s been around a long time so he’s seen things. He knows that. In some ways, you don’t have to continue, I think, to bring it up and talk about it. He knows what he needs to do to get the job done and again, he’s going to be a guy that we point to and lean on to pitch in games that we’re ahead in and I think he also knows that too.
“I think the fact that we’ve gone to him two times in a short period of time, I think he knows how we feel about him and we’re going to continue to support him and put him out there.”
- Former Twins first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants on Friday. The move made room for former Twins prospect Dereck Rodriguez on the 25-man roster. Rodriguez was roughed up on Friday night, and was immediately sent back to Sacramento.
- Arraez came up looking a little worse for the wear in the fourth inning, when he slid into first base head-first on a ball Sparkman fielded and fired to Cheslor Cuthbert. Arraez was called out, and needed a brief second to come up as Baldelli came out to check on him. After the game, Baldelli said the infielder was no worse for the wear. “Initially, yeah,” Baldelli said about concern Arraez might be hurt. “But he said he was fine. His first movement made us think there was something to be worried about, and ultimately he came in and said (he was) fine.”