KANSAS CITY -- Here's something you probably didn't think you'd see a month and a half ago: Lorenzo Cain is the Royals' cleanup hitter and Luis Mendoza is pitching like their ace.
Mendoza continued his recent string of strong starts, while Cain paced the offense with three run-scoring hits in a 7-3 win over the Twins on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.
The win evened the series at one game apiece -- setting up a rubber game on Sunday. Kansas City also kept from falling into last place in the American League Central.
Mendoza had allowed a total of five runs in his previous two outings, but the Royals were outscored, 6-2, in those games. On Saturday, Mendoza limited the Twins to just three runs on seven hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He also struck out four batters in earning his first win since beating Minnesota on June 29.
"It's always a good feeling to put up runs for him, because every time he goes out there, he pitches really well. He's normally lights out," said Cain, who recorded his third career game with three RBIs.
"He's been throwing really well this year, so we're just trying to find ways to put runs on the board for him. If we keep pitching like that, holding guys to a few runs each and every night, we've just got to find a way to get it done offensively."
Cain found a way to do just that as he continues to impress since his return from the disabled list. He was 3-for-4 overall, including a double.
"That's one of the main reasons we made the Melky Cabrera trade, because we felt like he was ready to contribute on our team," manager Ned Yost said. "He's showing now exactly what we thought he would be capable of doing if he was healthy all year long. It's a nice little shot in the arm to have him in the lineup."
Since coming off the DL following the All-Star break, Cain is batting .317 with three doubles, two home runs, nine RBIs and six runs scored. He also has become a fixture in the middle of the order without having hit there much for most of his career.
"It shows that your manager has confidence in you to put you in the middle of the order," Cain said. "Definitely with me, being out pretty much all year, it shows he has confidence in me. I'm just trying to hit in that spot and get it done, just trying to prove him right, I guess."
The Royals scored the game's first run on Cain's single in the bottom of the first. They added another the following inning on Yuniesky Betancourt's hit.
Minnesota tied it with two in the top of the fourth off Mendoza, but the Royals bounced back with two runs of their own in the fifth inning -- one coming on another Cain single -- to take the lead for good.
Jamey Carroll's RBI double drew Minnesota within one in the top of the seventh, chasing Mendoza from the game.
Jose Mijares came in and put the Twins away without further damage on the scoreboard. Aaron Crow pitched two innings to earn his second save of the year.
Despite having some runs on the board in his favor for the first time in several starts, Mendoza didn't have a huge lead to deal with.
"He didn't have a whole lot of room to spare," Yost said. "We gave him two runs, and they came back and got two. We gave him two more, and when he left the game, runners at second and third and a one-run lead. Mijares did a great job of coming in and saving the win for him right there. [Mendoza] did a nice job. He didn't have that real room, like a pitcher [who] can go out and say, 'OK, I can make a mistake or two here and still survive it.' He was still walking the thin line, and he did a great job."
"For me as a starter, it's huge. They give me more confidence to get out there every inning and try to not let the other team score more runs," Mendoza said of the support.
The Royals managed to bounce back against Twins starter Scott Diamond, who beat them on June 30, with eight solid innings. The rematch was a different story, as the Royals scored four runs against him on 10 hits, a season high for the left-hander.
"He's got great numbers. We watched a lot of film on him. We didn't want to do too much, and I think that's what we did," said Alex Gordon, who was 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. "We didn't really have any home runs or many doubles or anything like that, but just a lot of singles and good at-bats that we put together, and we were able to chip away."
Diamond seemed to agree with Gordon's assessment.
"I really don't second-guess any of the pitches I threw tonight," Diamond said. "I felt like I executed well. It was just frustrating the way the results happened. It seems like there were a lot of ground balls that just found their way. Same thing with the bloops. But it's just the way it goes sometime."
After Diamond's departure, the Royals tacked on three insurance runs against the Twins' bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings, including a pair of RBI doubles from Cain and Betancourt, who drove in two runs in the game.
In all, Kansas City matched a season high with 16 hits in a nine-inning game. The Royals' only game with more hits was 17 in a 14-inning loss to the White Sox on July 13.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.