Baker implodes; bullpen implodes; Royals rally.
Through six innings, the Royals had exactly two base runners, both via walks from Scott Baker. Yes, through six innings, Baker was cruising through a no-hitter in what was easily his most impressive start of the season. He'd struck out four Royals, mixing all four of his pitches with good movement and location to keep the division-leading Kansas City squad off the board. Additionally, the Twins offense had applied steady (if light) pressure to Gil Meche, slowly accumulating a 4-0 lead.
Over the next three innings the Royals would rack up double-digit hits.
Third Time's the Charm...
Leading off the top of the seventh, facing Baker in the third time through the order, Man of the Year nominee Willie Bloomquist (a .267 career hitter) took the third pitch and lined it into center field. Mark Teahen also waited until Baker's third pitch he saw before slapping a bleeding grounder through the right side. Next was Jose Guillen who, you guessed it, took Baker's third pitch of the at-bat and skied it to deep center field. For his third home run of the year. Honestly, it didn't look great or sound like it was hit that well, but somewhere along the line Guillen clearly clobbered it. Denard Span wasn't able to bring it back, and could only watch it sail over his head into the seats. Yet in spite of the three-run blast, the Twins still led 4-3.
The Slide Continues...
With the bases empty and still in the lead, the Twins left Baker on the mound to finish the inning. After all, the bullpen was spent.
Baker battled Mike Jacobs for eight pitches; falling behind 2-0 before fighting back to a full count by peppering the corners with fastballs, only to see Jacobs foul them off before fighting on low-and-away and depositiing it in center. Then David DeJesus went ahead 3-0, on what was beginning to be a very tight strike zone for Baker; DeJesus took the first fastball on the inner half and pulled it through a hole into right. Still with nobody out and the Royals suddenly back in the game, Minnesota pulled Baker for Luis Ayala.
The strike zone continued to fluctuate, this time garnering Ayala a called strike on a 3-1 pitch that was definitely outside, but it didn't matter; Alberto Callaspo (who's been a good contact hitter and on-base guy since coming to the Royals from Arizona), cracked a flyball deep to center field. Span raced after it and stretch out for it, only to have it fall just beyond his glove. Jacobs and DeJesus scored easily, while Callaspo was taken out trying to take third. Kansas City took the lead 5-4, and didn't look back.
A late pinch-hit appearance by Joe Mauer netted the Twins a two-out run in the bottom of the ninth, but by then the Royals had added two more runs courtesy of R.A. Dickey.
It was one that got away. And right now, whether it will remain to be true the rest of the season or not, it has to be said that the Royals are the better team. Their offense has been resilient these last two games, and their bullpen able to keep the Twins off the board when push came to shove.