MINNEAPOLIS -- Nothing normal about this finish.
Amidst a blown save, an ejected cleanup hitter and their first baseman playing right field, the Royals lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, in walk-off fashion in the 10th inning on Thursday night at Target Field.
"A lot of crazy things happened right there at the end of the game," said Eric Hosmer, who watched the game-ending hit sail over him in right field.
The Twins' 10th against reliever Francisley Bueno began with Alexi Casilla's liner to center field that Lorenzo Cain dove for but missed. Casilla got a double and Cain had to leave the game with a strained right hamstring. That prompted a move of Hosmer from first base to right field, Jeff Francoeur from right to center and Brayan Pena off the bench to play first.
That strange alignment lasted for exactly two pitches.
Denard Span belted a drive high over Hosmer to the right-field warning track, a double that sent Casilla home with the winning run.
Hosmer hadn't been in right field since an ill-fated trial there in an Interleague game at Pittsburgh. He had no chance on this play.
"We were playing to throw the guy out on a base hit. I don't know if a normal right fielder would've had that ball or what," Hosmer said. "Anything over your head, you've pretty much got to give it up anyways."
The Royals took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning but reliever Kelvin Herrera ran into trouble. The inning almost ended scoreless but, on a double-play attempt, first-base umpire Larry Vanover ruled that Hosmer pulled his foot off the bag before catching the ball and Span was safe, a call that seemed substantiated by a replay.
"It was one of those calls that could've gone either way," Hosmer said. "I felt like maybe I held it on for a split-second there at the end, but I haven't even had a chance to look at the replay so I don't know what the right call was. ... Tough play, tough call."
With two outs, Herrera issued a walk to load the bases and he was excused. Well-rested closer Greg Holland entered the fray.
"We were going to try to stop it at all costs there in the eighth inning," manager Ned Yost said.
Slugger Josh Willingham was up, the count went to 3-2 and Holland walked him to force in a run. Then Holland struck out Morneau to preserve a one-run lead -- but it didn't last.
Holland returned to the mound for the ninth and Trevor Plouffe led off with a booming home run to left field for a 3-3 tie.
"I don't think [the pitch] was up, it was right down the middle," Holland said. "It was situation where I walked Willingham the inning before and I fell behind 1-0. I just tried to go middle of the plate and down. He's a good fastball hitter and it cost us the game."
Plouffe's blast snapped Holland's streak of 13 consecutive saves since taking over the closer's role on July 31.
Billy Butler stirred up the proceedings in the 10th inning. Alex Gordon cracked a one-out double and when Butler objected to a called strike two, he was ejected by home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
"It was a heated moment," Butler said. "I've got my opinion on the call and obviously it was a disagreement, and it was unfortunate I got thrown out."
So with the cleanup batter banished, Tony Abreu was called off the bench with a 2-2 count and struck out swinging on Glen Perkins' first pitch. The strikeout was charged against Butler. Salvador Perez was intentionally walked and Mike Moustakas grounded out, stranding the runners.
All that put an end to what had been a relatively tranquil evening for the Royals.
Royals starter Luis Mendoza gave up a first inning home run to Willingham, his 34th, over the left-field fence. A good, robust 414-footer albeit with the bases empty.
After that, however, there was just one more fly ball to the outfield against Mendoza.
"Willingham hit a two-seamer down-and-in and that's all," Mendoza said. "I think I had good command today. I was working down in the zone and there were a lot of ground balls."
Justin Morneau followed the homer with a single, but those were the only two hits that Mendoza allowed in his six innings. However, up to 96 pitches, he was pulled in favor of Aaron Crow, who pitched a scoreless seventh. Mendoza struck out six and walked two.
"He did a very nice job," Yost said. "Actually, the pitch that Willingham hit for a home run was a pretty good pitch, so I was very pleased with the way Mendoza pitched."
The Royals were going against Liam Hendriks, a right-hander from Perth, Australia, who was trying to exorcise his exercise in futility. He had made the first 16 starts in his Major League career without a victory (0-9), just the sixth pitcher since 1920 to do so.
Maybe the Royals were reading up on this because, in the first inning, they jumped on him for two runs. Alcides Escobar singled, Gordon walked and, after they moved up on a ground-out, Perez singled them home. That gave Perez a 17-game hitting streak, the Royals' longest this season.
David Lough led off the Royals' fifth with a triple that ricocheted off the limestone facade rimming the right-field seats. Butler pounded a double to deep center field to get him home for a 3-1 lead.
But the lead didn't grow and it didn't last, so the Royals ended their road trip with a 4-2 record.
"You want to win those games when Mendoza goes out there and pitches like that," Gordon said. "We had a good lead and our offense did OK, but I felt like we could've done more to give him a more comfortable lead. With Minnesota's offense you never know."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.