Twins hold off Royals late in 4-2 victory
Minnesota picked up a half game on first-place Cleveland, trail Guardians by two games
The Minnesota Twins built their early control of the American League Central on the backs of division opponents, going 16-6 against Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland through May 29 to take a five-game lead — their biggest of the season.
It hasn’t been that easy since, but the Twins will have to do it again if they’re to retake the division lead down the stretch and win the Central for the third time in four years. Monday was a good start.
Joe Ryan pitched a solid 5⅓ innings, and Max Kepler broke an 0-for-29 skid with three hits, including an RBI double, as the Twins beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 22,003 at Target Field.
Jose Miranda, Jorge Polanco and Gary Sanchez also drove in runs for the Twins, all with singles off Royals starter Kris Bubic (2-7) as Minnesota improved to 12-14 against the Central since May 30, 28-20 overall.
Starting Tuesday against the Royals, the Twins play Central Division opponents in 25 of their last 48 regular-season games. They improved to 7-4 against Kansas City and have a winning record against every Central Division team except for first-place Cleveland (5-6).
Those two teams are scheduled to play eight times in September, including a five-game series in Cleveland Sept. 16-19. With the Guardians’ doubleheader split against Detroit on Monday, the Twins are two games back.
Ryan (9-5) gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Vinnie Pasquantino in the first inning before settling down to retire 12 of the last 19 batters he faced. He walked Pasquantino to start the sixth, then surrendered a double off the right field wall to Michael Massey before fanning Nate Eaton for his sixth strikeout.
That brought Caleb Thielbar out of the bullpen to face left-hander Nicky Pratto, but Royals manager Mike Matheny pinch-hit Brent Rooker, who was traded this spring from Minnesota to San Diego, then to Kansas City. He popped out to left field for the second out, and Thielbar struck out pinch-hitter Michael A. Taylor to get out of the jam with the Twins’ 4-2 lead intact.
Four Twins relievers combined to throw 2⅔ scoreless innings: Thielbar, Griffin Jax, Jhoan Duran and Jorge López. Duran fanned two in a 1-2-3 eighth, and López followed with a tense ninth, putting runners at first and third with a leadoff double and one-out single. But López got the leadoff hitter MJ Melendez to ground into a 3-6-3 double play for his 21st save of the season and second in four opportunities since being traded to Minnesota.
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