Royals gain lead in home-field race, eliminate Twins
By Jeffrey Flanagan and Betsy Helfand
MINNEAPOLIS -- Friday night's loss put the Twins down. Saturday's? Out. The Twins were officially eliminated from postseason contention with a 5-1 loss to the Royals at Target Field. A Lorenzo Cain roller up the first-base line plated the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and prolonged an ugly frame that effectively ended Minnesota's season.
"A curtain came down so to speak, but it was a pretty good show. Some of the acts were a little sketchy at times and we tried to move onto the next scene, but the body of work was good," Twins manager Paul Molitor said of the season. "They left it out there and we'll be better in the long run for it."
The Royals' win, coupled with the Blue Jays' loss to the Rays on Saturday night, put them in the driver's seat for home-field advantage through the ALCS. With a win on Sunday, they will earn that advantage. Only a loss on Sunday, coupled with a Jays win, would give Toronto the home-field advantage by virtue of winning the season series between the two teams, four games to three.
"We've got to go out and play to win tomorrow," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It doesn't matter what Toronto does, we have to win."
Royals starter Yordano Ventura did not allow a hit until the fifth inning. He gave up back-to-back hits in the sixth inning to tie the score at 1, but was otherwise unflappable. The right-hander matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and gave up just four hits in seven innings.
Twins starter Tommy Milone logged six innings, giving up one run on six hits. Relievers Blaine Boyer and Neal Cotts both gave up two runs -- just one earned -- in the Royals' four-run seventh.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED LoCain is back: Cain played for the first time since Wednesday when he took a foul ball off his right knee. Cain hardly skipped a beat. He doubled and scored in the first. He was intentionally walked in the third inning. He doubled in the fifth. And he reached on the infield single that plated the go-ahead run in the seventh. More >
"Lorenzo did a great job of running right on the baseline," Yost said. "The umpires got the call right."
Boyer's throw extends inning: Had Boyer been able to get Cain at first in the seventh, the Twins may have escaped with no damage in a tie game. Instead, Boyer's throw hit Cain on the back and allowed Alcides Escobar to score from third. Molitor tried to argue that Cain was outside the line, but the umpires conferred and ruled Cain safe.
"I wasn't sure exactly where Cain was at," Molitor said. "I just asked [home-plate umpire Larry Vanover] what his view was as far as if [Cain] was on the line or the foul side. He said he thought he was good. I asked him to check, they checked, they had a little conversation. They all agreed that he was OK."
Escobar, the table-setter: Much has been made by the numbers crowd about why Escobar should be in the leadoff spot. But the Royals improved to 43 games over .500 with him there since last season (including the postseason). Escobar had only one hit Saturday, but it was huge -- a triple to launch the four-run seventh inning.
"It's a mystery why we win with him up there," Yost said. "But we do. He just makes something happen. When was the last time he had a triple? But then bam, he gets a triple to start the rally."
Two-error play costly: Giving the Royals an extra out proved costly for the Twins. Down 2-1 with two on and two out, Jonny Gomes hit a liner that ticked off of third baseman Trevor Plouffe's glove into left field. The play, which was ruled an error on Plouffe, got even worse for Minnesota when left fielder Eddie Rosario airmailed a throw and two runs scored.
"You always want to win. You always want to go into the postseason. You want to get a chance to go to that World Series. And some people might call it not successful, but for us, everybody that [said] -- all the critics, all the analysts, all the the sabermetrics, everything you can name said the Twins were going to be in last place. You're wrong. We did a great job. Give it a B-plus. We can always do better. We did. We had a winning season." -- Twins right fielder Torii Hunter
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Ace Johnny Cueto (10-13, 3.48 ERA) will get the ball on Sunday at 2:10 p.m. CT for the regular-season finale at Target Field. The right-hander is coming off three straight quality starts, but he picked up his seventh loss with Kansas City last time out.
Twins: Right-hander Ricky Nolasco will make his first start since May 31 in Sunday's season finale at 2:10 p.m. CT. Nolasco, who had ankle surgery in July, has pitched just once since the injury. He tossed two innings on Sept. 30, giving up three runs on two hits. He is expected to throw around 50 pitches.
Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB. Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.