MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire saw that Josh Willingham was hitting the ball better a week ago. On Friday night, that was a bad thing for Minnesota.
Traded to the Royals on Monday, Willingham returned to Target Field and hit a bases-clearing double in Kansas City’s five-run fourth inning, and the surging Royals hung on to beat the Twins 6-5.
"He hasn’t been gone very long. It’s only been a couple of days for us," Gardenhire said. "We said he was starting to swing better. He had a good series out there where he had a big home run out in Oakland for us and we had seem some signs of him coming along and putting some better swings on the ball. We knew that coming in. We just made a bad pitch to him and Josh can do that. He can drill it."
After Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the third, the first six Royals hitters reached base to start the fourth off Ricky Nolasco (5-8). Willingham drilled a bases-loaded double down the left-field line to make it 3-2. Two batters later, Alcides Escobar tripled to score Willingham and Mike Moustakas.
"I knew it was going to be a little strange. Once the game started, everything was fine," said Willingham, who got his third hit in a Royals uniform.
Danny Duffy (8-10) allowed three runs in 5 1-3 innings to win his third straight start. Kansas City has won 11 of 12 and sits atop the AL Central.
Oswaldo Arcia hit an RBI double in the ninth and pinch-hitter Chris Parmelee drove him in with a groundout to cut the Royals’ lead to 6-5. But Greg Holland struck out Danny Santana for his 37th save in 39 chances.
"Unfortunately we couldn’t make up enough ground. I don’t think we did too well with runners in scoring position," Gardenhire added. "Although we scored some runs we still left some people out there."
Nolasco made his first start since going on the disabled list July 8 with an elbow strain. He struck out three and looked sharp in every inning besides the fourth. The right-hander signed a four-year, $49 million free agent contract in the offseason, the richest free agent deal in Twins’ history, and now has a 5.99 ERA.
"I made some good pitches. A little unfortunate some balls found a few holes," Nolasco said. "The main one was the one by Willingham. I’d like to have that one back. But I made a bad pitch there, hung it. That’s what good hitters do there; they’ll make you pay in those type of RBI situations."
Streaking: Joe Mauer’s eighth-inning double extended his hitting streak to 16 games, equaling a career high set in 2008. Mauer, who spent July on the disabled list with an oblique strain, last went hitless on June 18.
The Body gets booed: Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura was booed loudly when he and his wife were shown on the Target Field big screen for "kiss cam." Ventura has been in the news recently after winning a $1.8 million defamation lawsuit against the estate of "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle. It’s probably the loudest Ventura has been booed since he wore a feather boa and wrestled as a bad guy at the old St. Paul Civic Center in the glory days of the AWA.
Up next: Yordano Ventura (9-8, 3.45 ERA) pitches for the Royals against Minnesota’s Phil Hughes (12-8, 3.88) in the second game of this four-game series on Saturday