Royals pound Blackburn, but a shoddy bullpen, defensive miscues and a potent Minnesota offense lead to another Twins victory.
On a rainy night in Kansas City, the Twins fell behind early to what's been a surprisingly productive Royals team. Luke Hochevar was good early on, working around a two-out triple by Joe Mauer in the first and subsequent walk of Justin Morneau to get Michael Cuddyer swinging on a high fastball. It would be a recurring theme, particularly throughout the first half of the game, that Minnesota would mound a threat only to be turned away.
David DeJesus set the tone for the Royals by leading off the bottom of the first with a double that Delmon Young couldn't quite get to. Billy Butler and Jose Guillen came through with big hits to make it a 2-0 game, before a pair of Blackburn walks loaded the bases with two out. A flyout to deep center ended the threat in the first, but Kansas City continued to press in the second as two more runs scored. Blackburn threw just 11 pitches in the inning, but was hit hard. He was constantly high and in the zone, and a pair of long fly-ball outs could have been much worse if they weren't hit right to somebody. Early in the game though it was, it looked like it could get out of hand early.
Minnesota proceeded to chip away. Hochever did exactly what pitchers with a decent lead are supposed to do: be aggressive and throw the ball over the plate. He began the fourth with a 5-1 lead. Three pitches and three batters later it was 5-3, but a nice diving catch by Rick Ankiel doubled Jason Kubel off second base to end the inning. The next inning, Mauer picked up another one of his five hits by driving in Hudson, who had doubled with two out. 5-4.
Ron Mahey relieved Blackburn with two on and one away in the fifth, surrending consecutive hits and another Royals run before DeJesus bailed him out with the bases loaded on a slick 3-2-3 double play.
It would stay 6-4 until the top of the seventh. Under darkening skies and a steady drizzle of rain, Mauer drove Hochevar from the game with a two-out double. Hochevar was relieved by John Parrish, and Morneau drove the first pitch he saw over the fence in straightaway center field to knot it up at six. It had seemed the entire game that this one would go the Royals' way no matter what happened, but with one swing of the bat momentum swung the other way. While the Twins would go on to load the bases without scoring another run, the game had turned.
The Royals would do the same in the bottom of the tenth, loading the bases but putting a zero on the board. Their bad luck carried through to the top of the eleventh, where two balls that should have been outs dropped in; Hudson's pop-up and Mauer's sinking liner into center put runners on the corners with one out. A walk to Morneau led to a sac fly for Cuddyer, and for just one moment it looked like the Twins would complete the comeback by taking a 7-6 lead.
But just like earlier in the contest, a smashed grounder down the line found it's way past a Twins defender for a run; this time it was Harris at third. Closer Jon Rauch, however, wasn't about to let that be how he left the game.
A Young double led off the top of the twelvth, followed by a J.J. Hardy walk and a brilliant bunt single by Alexi Casilla. Then the Royals shot themselves in the foot again, for possibly the fourth time in the game, as Span's pop up fell to the grass behind Alberto Callaspo to give the Twins the lead again. This time it was for good. Mauer added a sac fly to make it 9-7, and in spite of a rough eleventh Gardy gave in to Rauch and sent him back to the mound. He wouldn't get the save, but he'd get the win.
The game ended auspiciously, when Hardy bobbled a two-out grounder and flipped it to second base. Scott Podsednik was called out, although he clearly wasn't, but the bottom line is this: the game was over. Maybe the Royals could have mounted a rally, but the chances are that they wouldn't have. Additionally, if they had converted the four outs that the biffed on earlier in the game, chances are this one wouldn't even have made it as far as it did.
It's another series win for the Twins, and it was a fun game. Sure, it ended on a sour note for Royals fans, but from this perspective the outcome of the game was already pretty much sealed.
Mauer: 5 hits, including a double, a triple and a pair of RBI
Morneau: Game-tying jack for a pair of RBI, walked twice
Cuddyer: 2 hits, 2 RBI
Young: A double that couldn't have come at a better time, and a walk
Neshek, Crain, Duensing & Guerrier: 4.2 innings of scoreless relief
Rauch: The balls to beg to come back out to the mound in the 12th with a depleted bullpen, and getting the job done
Blackburn: Got mashed, 10 hits and 6 runs in 4.1 innings
Kubel: Got a bit one to drop in left field to close the gap to 5-3, but only because of a Royal error; tough day
Hardy: Hitless on the day, should have not been credited with the out at the end of the game