Twins win, pull within two games of Tigers
Cuddyer, Young homer as Minnesota gains in AL Central
KANSAS CITY -- The Twins have been finding different heroes and different ways to win each night as they've captured victories in 10 of their past 11 contests to remain in the American League Central race.On Friday night against the Royals, Minnesota was facing a pitcher that's been almost unhittable over the past month since moving from the bullpen to join Kansas City's rotation. So knowing that hits come few and far between against right-hander Robinson Tejeda, the Twins managed to capitalize on a couple of mistakes by the Royals and use other means to defeat the red-hot starter in a 9-4 victory in the series opener at Kauffman Stadium. Nick Punto scored on a wild pitch from second base, and the Twins took advantage of an error on a potential double-play ball in the fifth inning, drawing three straight bases-loaded walks as part of a four-run inning. Oh, and there were a couple hits off Tejeda too -- both coming from unlikely sources, as two right-handed hitters delivered them. Prior to Michael Cuddyer hitting home run No. 30 of the season in the fourth inning, right-handed hitters had gone 0-for-43 against Tejeda. For Minnesota, it's been a case of win whatever way you can. And this victory came at a much-needed time, as it moved the Twins within two games of the first-place Tigers, following Detroit's 2-0 loss to the White Sox in Chicago. The Twins and Tigers will meet at Comerica Park for four contests beginning Monday. "We figure if we just keep winning, then [the Tigers] can't go any farther away from us until we get there to play in Detroit," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We just have to win our games. That's all we are focusing on right now. " That being said, Minnesota was quite aware of the nail-biter that was going on in Chicago via Kauffman Stadium's left-field scoreboard. No runs were scored at U.S. Cellular Field until the sixth inning, when the White Sox scored two off Tigers starter Eddie Bonine, who had carried a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. So knowing how difficult it is to get to Tejeda -- who had allowed just two earned runs over 22 1/3 innings since becoming a starter -- and that they might need a win just to keep pace, the Twins tried to jump on any Royals miscue. And that's exactly what Punto did in the third when he used the wild pitch to score the Twins' first run without the club having even tallied a hit. Standing on second base during Orlando Cabrera's at-bat, Punto watched as Tejeda's pitch bounced through catcher John Buck's legs. As the catcher struggled to locate the ball on top of some signage adorning the backstop, Punto never broke stride as Cabrera waved him on, rounding third base and heading all the way in to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. "With two strikes and two outs right there, I thought it was worth the risk," Punto said. "It paid off for us, scoring a run without getting a hit. That sometimes can get you going." It sure seemed to energize the Twins. Even though Minnesota starter Carl Pavano gave up a solo home run to Billy Butler in the third to knot the game at 1, the Twins didn't take long to regain the lead. Cuddyer delivered the first hit of the game for Minnesota with two outs in the fourth and made it count -- drilling a ball into the left-field seats for a solo home run. But it wasn't until the fifth that the Twins really were able to get to Tejeda. By the start of the fifth, Tejeda had already issued three walks. There would be four more free passes issued by the starter before he exited with one out in the fifth. He walked the first batter to start the fifth, and Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt followed by misplaying a potential double-play ball from Matt Tolbert. After walking Denard Span to load the bases, Tejada found himself in a real jam. He then gave up only his second hit of the night -- an RBI single by Cabrera to make it 3-1. Tejeda (4-2) then issued back-to-back bases-loaded walks to Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel to end his night. But reliever Juan Cruz continued the control problems, walking the first batter he faced, Cuddyer, to score another run and give the Twins a 6-1 lead. "They were trying to get him to throw all his pitches," Buck said. "Typical Minnesota, and it ended up paying off because he threw a lot of his changeups and they weren't biting on them like normal, aggressive teams do." "He's got great stuff and going into that game, he had the numbers to back it," Punto said of Tejeda. "He just gave up a few too many walks today and we capitalized on that." All of those runs off Tejeda would be needed since Pavano had one problem all night -- getting Butler out. Having already allowed two hits to the Royals first baseman before the fifth, Pavano ended up giving up his second homer of the night to Butler. This time, it was a three-run shot that pulled Kansas City within two. "That's not the way you want to pitch with the lead," Pavano said. "You want to be aggressive and make those guys put the ball in play, and I was a little defensive." It seemed to be the only time of the night Minnesota seemed to play defensively with its lead. By the end, the club managed to capture yet another win and put itself closer to making the series with Detroit meaningful. "We have to take care of our business, but it's human nature to look at the scoreboard," Punto said. "Right now, it's fun. We get to go play [the Tigers] for four games. We're not out of it."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.