MINNEAPOLIS — Are these Royals actually starting to create a little separation between themselves and Detroit?
Apparently so after the Royals fought back the Twins, 6-5 on Friday night at Target Field. Coupled with the Tigers’ 7-2 loss to the Mariners, Kansas City now has a 1 1/2-game lead on Detroit for first place in the AL Central.
The Royals did so on a night when they had a ton of offensive chances. They wasted numerous ones. In fact, they had a runner on third and less than two out in the third, fourth, seventh and eighth and failed to get any of those runners in.
In other words, this could have been a blowout.
"We left a couple runs out there," manager Ned Yost said. "But I’m just glad we got the five we did (in the third inning) and the big tack-on run later."
Yes, the Royals did enough offensively, thanks to a three-run double from Josh Willingham and a two-run triple by Alcides Escobar.
Greg Holland wobbled in the ninth, giving up two runs, one earned. But eventually he overcame some poor command and got past the Twins.
"I’m wearing Greg out," Yost conceded. "I’m going to need to get him a day off. That’s just fatigue."
— Josh’s homecoming. Before the game, Willingham had a media session for Twins reporters. Willingham is a quiet guy and didn’t allow much about any emotion regarding his return to Target Field. But Willingham came through against his old teammates, crushing a three-run double in the fifth into the left-field corner.
"Just a big, big hit for Josh," Yost said. "That’s why we got him."
— Esky’s triple. Already up 3-2 and with two on, Escobar roped a liner into right-center that was misplayed, and he wound up with a two-run triple. Actually, Esky might have had an inside-the-park homer had he really busted hard to first base. But Esky no doubt thought it was a rather routine single. When it skipped to the wall, Esky cruised into third.
"Just glad to come through there," he said. "I was just trying to put it in play with runners on first and third."
Esky also came through with a two-out RBI single in the eighth, a flare into right field.
"I hit that one just off the last part of the bat," Esky said, smiling. "I was more happy with that hit than the first one."
— Royals bullpen. Fans back in Kansas City were a little surprised that Yost came out and got Danny Duffy in the sixth inning after just 79 pitches. But it was clear Duffy didn’t have his great command, and Yost had a rested bullpen that is also one of the best in baseball.
"I had no problem with it," Duffy said. "I was getting a little fatigued. And you have to look at the big picture. We have a great pen. And I think they were looking out for me. I wasn’t getting (the ball) out well. I looked up once at the scoreboard and I saw 88 (mph). It’s that time of the season."
— Oh, Nori. A day after coming up with a huge two-run triple, Nori Aoki had a very rough night at the plate. Aoki grounded out in the first. Then Aoki had Jarrod Dyson on third with one out in the third and got ahead in the count, 3-0. The Twins moved the infield back, then Aoki took two strikes. The infield came in on 3-2 and Aoki took a third strike. Ouch. It got worse. In the fourth, Aoki again came up with a runner on third and one out. This time Aoki popped out to short left field, not plating the run.
— Oh, Omar. To be fair to Aoki, Omar Infante could have picked up his teammates both times that Aoki didn’t get his job done. But in the third, Infante popped out to short center. And in the fourth, Infante grounded out to end the inning. Worse yet, Infante, too, had a chance with Dyson on third and one out in the seventh. Infante struck out.
— Duffy’s error. Duffy did not have great command, on the mound and while fielding. Duffy made a big error in the Twins’ third that led to an unearned run. After two singles led off the inning, Danny Santana bunted. Duffy picked up the bunt and threw it down the right-field line, scoring one run and putting runners on second and third with none out. Actually, after that, Duffy did a good job of holding the Twins to one more run that inning. "I was proud of the way I came back," he said.