Twins edge Royals, Greinke to stay in AL Central race
The only way one could tell it wasn’t a postseason game was that the Royals were involved. With a full Metrodome rocking it its final days, the Twins beat the Royals 5-4 on Saturday to keep the pressure on the Tigers as they play the White Sox tonight. This was the game the Twins faced long odds to win. Zack Greinke had given up three runs -- two earned -- in his last six starts, the last being a win over Minnesota last weekend. Nick Blackburn was also pitching well, but as a result of Monday’s rainout, he had to pitch on three days’ rest for the first time in his career today. Blackburn, though, excelled, and the teams matched zeroes until the sixth. Nick Punto led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then to third on a groundout. That brought up future AL MVP Joe Mauer in a situation that begged for an intentional walk. Greinke, though, wasn’t having any of it. Mauer got down in the count 0-2, held on and then lined a single to right. That figured to be the end of it, but Jason Kubel followed with a ground-rule double that ticked off the glove of a sprinting Willie Bloomquist in left field. After a HBP loaded the bases, Delmon Young delivered a three-run double over the head of an awkward Mark Teahen in right field, making it a 4-0 game. It was the first time all year that Greinke had given up more than three runs in an inning. So, now the Twins could cruise to a win against a punchless Kansas City offense? No, wrong again. Mike Jacobs had a solo homer in the seventh, and Miguel Olivo started the eighth with a double that got Blackburn pulled. Manager Ron Gardenhire smartly brought in lefty Jose Mijares to face Alex Gordon. Mijares had limited left-handed hitters to a .139 average and two homers in 101 at-bats. Gordon was hitting .146 with two homers in 48 at-bats against left-handed pitching. Gordon, of course, launched a ball over the baggie in right, making it 4-3. The Royals tied it up in the same inning on a double-play ball. The decisive blow was supplied by Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the eighth. The Royals let lefty Dusty Hughes face him, even though he’s hit .303 with 14 homers in 165 at-bats against southpaws, and Cuddyer stung a liner to the opposite first for his 31st homer of the year. Joe Nathan went on to pitch a perfect ninth, with some help from Denard Span in right field, for his 47th save. The Twins are now just a half-game back of the Tigers in the Central race. Rather than bring Justin Verlander back on three days’ rest, Detroit will start rookie Alfredo Figaro tonight against Freddy Garcia and the White Sox.