By Rhett Bollinger and Jeffrey Flanagan
KANSAS CITY -- Joe Mauer ripped a two-run homer and the Twins' bullpen tossed five scoreless innings to bail out starter Mike Pelfrey as Minnesota topped the Royals, 5-3, on Saturday in front 37,917 fans at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins have taken two of three so far in the series and pulled within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Royals, who have dropped five of six. Mauer's homer, his fifth this season, came after Brian Dozier singled. The Twins added a third run in the inning on Aaron Hicks' RBI groundout.
Pelfrey was cruising through four innings until his command abandoned him in the fifth. He gave up two singles, then issued a four-pitch walk to Mike Moustakas. He fell behind Lorenzo Cain 3-0 before serving up a two-run single that finished his night.
"I thought my stuff was way too good to not get anybody out in the fifth," Pelfrey said. "I thought I had good stuff but didn't execute pitches in there in the fifth. But the bullpen picked me up and the offense scored another run and we were able to win. So I need to be better, but these guys picked me up."
"It was good to get him into the fifth inning, especially after the first," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Mechanically, he was drifting, which means that his body was going forward, not allowing his arm to catch up. It results in a flat fastball and not as much bite on the sinker. He finally, about the middle of the second, stayed back more. He was pretty good from that point on. But the big, three-run first inning was a little bit of a hole to climb out of."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Minnesota's bullpen shuts the door: Pelfrey was unable to go more than four innings for the third time in his last five outings, giving the Twins the tall task of shutting down the Royals the rest of the way. The Royals came back late against the bullpen on Friday, but six Twins relievers combined to throw five shutout innings to preserve the win. Twins closer Glen Perkins tossed a scoreless ninth to improve to 27-for-27 in save opportunities this season. More >
Cain stays hot: Cain, who scored the winning run for the Royals on Friday night, did all he could to keep the Royals close. He doubled in the third but was stranded, then singled in the Royals' first two runs in the fifth and walked while trying to start a two-out rally in the seventh but was stranded. The Royals all night seemed just one big blast from getting it rolling.
"We had opportunities early, but they were two-out opportunities where it takes a clutch hit to put some runs on the board," Yost said. "And we did a nice job in the fifth inning answering their three-run inning in the first. The key to the game was they tacked on two more runs and we weren't able to."
Plouffe, Mauer both nearly hit for cycle:Trevor Plouffe singled, doubled and tripled in his first three at-bats, but couldn't come up with a homer to get the cycle, while Mauer fell a triple short. Plouffe's single in the first after Mauer's two-run homer led to a run with Hicks later bringing him home on an RBI groundout. Plouffe's triple in the fifth also scored Mauer from first with two outs. Plouffe picked up three hits, while Mauer had four.
"Putting us on the board with the two-run homer right out of the chute was really nice to see," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It was a really good for him. And Trevor had a really good night."
"It wasn't fun, I'll tell you that much. It was an unfortunate situation. I don't really know all the details yet. I'm just going to get an MRI tomorrow and it's just one of those things I can't explain right now." -- Twins reliever Ryan Pressly, who left the game with a high lat strain in the seventh inningMore >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With his fifth homer in his 80th game this season, Mauer surpassed his total of four homers in 120 games last season. It was also his first homer in a first inning since Aug. 16, 2013.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Right-hander Ervin Santana makes his long-awaited Twins debut on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. CT after being reinstated on Saturday from his 80-game suspension for the use of a performance-enhancing drug. Santana made three rehab starts with Triple-A Rochester, posting a 1.74 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. More >
Royals:Left-hander Danny Duffy makes his third start since coming off the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Duffy (2-4, 5.44) always has had success against the Twins -- 4-1, 2.37 ERA with a .236 opponents' average.