MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins salvaged some badly needed momentum, entering a last-ditch five-game series at first-place Cleveland this weekend.
Their pitching lately looks up to the task.
Carlos Correa's solo home run in the first inning and Nick Gordon's two-run shot in the second gave the Twins enough to hang on for a 3-2 victory to finish a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night and gain ground in the AL Central race.
“Our guys know what's at stake, and our guys know what time of the year it is,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “This is what we do all this work for.”
The Twins (72-70) pulled within four games of the Guardians (76-66), who had their six-game winning streak stopped with an 8-2 loss to Chicago in the afternoon. The White Sox (74-70) are in second place, three games out.
“I’m excited because I know it’s important for us," reliever Jhoan Duran said through a translator. “That’s the season right there."
Trevor Megill (4-3), who threw the first of five scoreless innings by five Twins relievers, picked up the victory with a perfect fifth. Duran got his seventh save in as many attempts with a tense ninth, retiring his last three batters on a sacrifice bunt and two strikeouts after the first two men reached.
“Anybody can step up in any given moment. Nobody quite has a role, but we’re always ready whenever Rocco calls upon us,” said Michael Fulmer, who pitched a perfect eighth.
After losing nine of 11, including a three-game sweep here last weekend by division-leading Cleveland, the Twins snapped to life against the ready-for-next-year Royals. This was their second sweep of Kansas City in four weeks. Minnesota has a 12-4 advantage in the season series, with three games remaining on the road against the Royals next week.
After Michael Taylor's RBI single in the second inning and Salvador Perez's leadoff home run in the fourth off Twins starter Dylan Bundy, the Royals put only two runners on until the consecutive singles against Duran to start the ninth.
The Twins outscored the Royals 13-5 in the series and allowed a total of only 13 hits.
Correa is batting .339 in his last 31 games (39 for 115) with eight home runs, 21 RBIs and 18 walks. Gordon's 11th career home run was his first against a left-hander, Royals starter Daniel Lynch (4-11).
“I thought he got better as he went,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Those last couple innings, we saw some stuff that we really hadn't seen here in awhile.”
In honor of the baseball-wide celebration of the late Hall of Fame player, humanitarian and Puerto Rico native Roberto Clemente, two Royals and six Twins chose to wear his old No. 21. That included Correa, a Puerto Rican, and Perez, who was his team’s 2021 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for character and community service.
Correa and Perez, as fate would have it, both hit their 21st homers.
“You grow up in Puerto Rico learning the history of Roberto Clemente and how great he was. All the people he touched off the field is what inspired me the most and that’s the reason why I have a foundation to help others because my idol, Roberto Clemente, did it,” Correa said before the game.
Twins 1B/2B/DH Luis Arraez, who departed the game Wednesday with tightness in his hamstring, was held out of the lineup as a precaution after an MRI test revealed no damage. The AL batting leader entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning for Kyle Garlick, who had wrist pain.
The lineup remained well below full strength, with 2B Jorge Polanco (knee inflammation), CF Byron Buxton (hip strain), LF Alex Kirilloff (wrist inflammation) and RF Max Kepler (bruised leg, sore wrist) leading the list of sidelined regulars. Kepler is the only one not on the injured list.
“We need to bring guys back who can play. Bringing guys back who can play and then maybe need a day or two once they play a game, that’s not going to help us as much as we think," Baldelli said before the game.
Royals: RHP Jonathan Heasley (3-8, 5.51 ERA) takes the mound on Friday night in Boston to begin a three-game series. RHP Michael Wacha (11-1, 2.69 ERA) pitches for the Red Sox.
Twins: RHP Bailey Ober (0-2, 4.11 ERA) will come off the injured list for the series opener in Cleveland. He has made only seven starts this season because of a groin strain, with his last outing on June 1. RHP Triston McKenzie (10-11, 3.05) pitches for the Guardians. He beat the Twins last week with seven shutout innings.