Greinke baffles Twins to claim 16th win
Betancourt hits three-run homer, scores on wild pitch
KANSAS CITY -- Talk about Zack on the attack. That was the theme on Sunday as the Royals' Zack Greinke burnished his Cy Young Award credentials with a sweet 16th victory.
Masterfully working his way out of pitching peril, Greinke went seven innings of a 4-1 victory over the Twins at Kauffman Stadium, where the atmosphere was electric. The 28,721 fans gave Greinke a standing ovation even as he walked in from the bullpen after his pregame warmup.
Greinke didn't disappoint them, lowering his Major League-leading ERA to 2.06 and notching eight strikeouts, five of them with runners in scoring position, to reach 237.
His effort cost the Twins a chance to get to within one game of Detroit in the American League Central. The Tigers also lost, but Greinke was just too much for the Twins, who remained two games back. He'll also go against the Twins in his last start next Saturday at Minnesota.
"I've always thought he was filthy," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "I've always thought he was really, really good. I've never enjoyed it when our club is facing Greinke. He never throws the same pitch twice."
After Greinke had thrown 97 pitches and forced the Twins to strand seven batters, Royals manager Trey Hillman turned to his well-rested closer, Joakim Soria, for the last two innings. Soria had not pitched in four days.
Soria worked his way through a couple of small crises of his own and stranded two runners in each of the two scoreless innings en route to his 29th save.
Greinke showed his stuff in the third inning when he pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Matt Tolbert walked, Nick Punto bounced a single off Greinke's glove and Denard Span looped a single just over third baseman Alberto Callaspo.
OK, Cy Young candidate, show us what you're made of now.
Orlando Cabrera's tap was taken by the drawn-in Callaspo, who snapped a throw to catcher Miguel Olivo for the forceout at home. Although it appeared that Olivo had time to throw to first for a double play, he held the ball.
Greinke had an animated discussion with his catcher after the play.
"When I was looking at it, I thought Cabrera was way in fair territory and I was like, 'Just throw it because he's going to be out, no matter what, because he's in fair territory,'" Greinke said.
If Olivo's throw had hit Cabrera while the batter was inside the foul line, umpire Mike Reilly could've called him out. On the other hand, maybe Reilly wouldn't have made the call.
"That's the thing," Olivo said. "I don't know if the umpire's going to give it to me."
And, in retrospect, Greinke wasn't so certain, either.
"The umpire said, 'Maybe,' and when I looked back on it, it probably would've been called, but it wasn't as obvious as I thought it was," Greinke said.
And, as Greinke recalled it, Olivo shrugged and said: "Just get the next two guys."
OK, so there was only one out and the bases were still loaded. Who's up? Just Joe Mauer, the Majors' leading hitter. Greinke struck him out on a 2-2 pitch.
"A slider in, he had good stuff," Mauer said. "The first inning he got me on that one, too. I had a tough time trying to figure out the zone today. But take nothing away from what Greinke did, because he was just flat out nasty."
Greinke also struck out Jason Kubel on a 2-2 pitch.
By this time, he was working with a 3-0 lead, courtesy of Yuniesky Betancourt's three-run homer in the second inning off left-hander Francisco Liriano. Betancourt teed off after Callaspo doubled, Olivo walked and Mark Teahen sacrificed.
"Yuni had a huge game for us," Hillman said. "He came through in a big way for us and helped us all breathe a little easier."
Betancourt also led off the fourth with a double, moved to third on Hernandez's bunt and scored on reliever Jeff Manship's wild pitch. And it was Betancourt, after making four errors in the previous three games, who helped the Royals with sharp fielding.
The Twins couldn't break through the Greinke armor until the sixth inning when Cabrera and Mauer each singled. They advanced on a groundout, and Cabrera scored as Michael Cuddyer rolled out.
Greinke found himself in a jam again in the seventh as Jose Morales led off with a single and Tolbert walked. But Punto popped to center and Greinke struck out both Span and Cabrera.
"Both those guys are really hard to strike out, too -- Span and Cabrera. I don't really think about it with them because they're so good," Greinke said.
Greinke ended the inning by firing an 0-2 heater clocked at 98 mph past Cabrera's bat, his 97th pitch of the game.
"The last pitch was a fastball," Greinke said. "You can't really get it by him. Your only chance is for him to swing at a pitch that he can't hit. ... I wasn't trying to throw it that high but it worked out."
Hillman explained that he'd almost used Soria at the end of Saturday night's 11-6 loss just to get the rust off his arm. But, when this chance for Soria to get a two-inning save came up, Hillman was glad he didn't.
Soria survived two singles and a hit batter in the eighth. And, after retiring the first two batters in the ninth, Span and Cabrera each singled. Once again Mauer and his big average were at the plate.
"Yeah, he's a big dude," Soria said. "He's a Major League hitter but I'm a Major League pitcher, too, so I have to face him like a man."
Mauer hit a grounder that Betancourt snagged behind second base, throwing to Billy Butler for the final out.
With Greinke at 16-8 and a 2.06 ERA, there aren't any doubts around here who should be the AL's top pitcher.
"I think right now there's no doubt that he's going to win the Cy Young," Olivo said. "He deserves to get it."
"He deserves it, big time," Soria said.
As for Greinke himself, he doesn't much like to hear that the fans are talking about his Cy Young chances.
"That's pretty annoying, actually. I don't like it at all," said the ever-honest Greinke. "I guess it's nice that they do that, but it's annoying to me."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.