The Twins gift-wrapped a five-run inning for Kansas City on Saturday and that was enough — thanks to a stellar bullpen — for the Royals, who won their fifth straight, 5-4. That’s the Royals’ longest winning streak since late last August, when the Royals also won five straight.
Saturday’s win came about after the Royals fell behind 2-0. But Alex Gordon led off the fourth inning with a broken-bat single and Billy Butler followed with a line drive to right field, a catchable ball that froze Twins right fielder Chris Colabello and sailed over his head for a double.
Mike Moustakas followed with a sacrifice fly and Justin Maxwell singled, tying the score. Then on an 0-2 pitch, Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second. Norichika Aoki followed with a slap shot toward third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who never moved even though the ball nearly hit him in the feet. A run scored and Escobar took third.
"It’s really hard to see during day games sometimes when the ball comes out low," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "The ball kind of gets lost between the brick of the backstop and the dirt back there. Just hard to pick up. I’m sure (Plouffe) never saw it."
Infante singled to make it 4-2, then Aoki stole third and scored when Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki launched his throw into left field.
Starter Bruce Chen struggled through five innings, giving up four runs, but got the win.
— The bullpen blows them away. Ever since the Royals’ ‘pen had some early-season struggles, it has been lights out. Make that 14 straight scoreless innings now for the ‘pen during the winning streak. And Royals relievers have struck out 21 hitters. On Saturday, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis and Greg Holland protected a 5-4 lead. "I had turned to (pitching coach Dave Eiland) in the fifth and said, ‘You know, we may have to hold onto a one-run lead the rest of the way,’" skipper Ned Yost said. "And they did." Duffy threw two innings before handing it to Davis, who struck out two of his three hitters. "That’s the best I’ve seen Wade Davis throw," Yost said. "Came in throwing 96 (mph)."
— Duffy to the rescue again. Duffy helped the Royals win an extra-inning game in Houston by throwing scoreless innings in the bottom of the ninth and 10th. Duffy came into Saturday’s game without quite as much high leverage, but he did restore order. He walked the first hitter he faced, then mowed down six straight Twins. "We all know Danny has great stuff," Holland said. "He throws 96 or 98 (mph) and he has a great curve. When he gets the ball over for strikes, he’s really, really tough."
— Billy Ball is back? Butler had two more hits out of the six hole, including his first extra-base hit of the season — the double that froze Colabello in right field. "He could have caught it," Butler said. "But still, I got the barrel (of the bat) on it and drove it. When I’m going good, I hit it that way." Butler had a sharp single to center in the fifth inning, too. "It felt good to get a couple of hits," he said. "I swung at the pitches I should have and took the pitches I should have."
— Hosmer needs to calm down with RISP. Hosmer twice had opportunities to bring runs home when he came up with a runner on third with one out in the third, and with runners on first and third and one out in the fourth. He popped out both times, even though the infield was back both times as the Twins were conceding the run. "You know, with Hoz, it’s just him trying to get too big," Yost said. "He tries to muscle up and his swing gets long. But usually he has as good of mechanics as anyone in the league. It’s just what young hitters have to go through — he will start to relax in those situaitons."
— Swinging on 3-0 pitches. I get it: Sometimes 3-0 pitches are the best (fattest) pitches a hitter will ever see. But after Moustakas flied out on a 3-0 pitch Saturday, the Royals now are hitless in four tries on 3-0 pitches — and actually they’ve made five outs since one swing turned into a double play. Last year the Royals were 3 for 9 while hitting on 3-0 pitches. Sorry, not a fan of the philosophy. As Hal McRae used to tell me, chances are great you’ll see just as good a pitch or better on 3-1, so don’t help the pitcher out.
— Small strike zone. Can’t say I was too thrilled with home-plate umpire Bill Welke’s incredibly shrinking strike zone on Saturday. But the Royals’ pitchers compensated pretty well.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org