By Rhett Bollinger and Jeffrey Flanagan
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Moustakas tied the Royals' franchise record for homers in a season with his 36th blast and Brandon Moss added a two-run shot to lift the Royals to a 7-6 win, while ending the Twins' four-game winning streak on Friday night at Target Field.
With the loss, the Twins remain in the second AL Wild Card spot and are one game back of the Yankees for the first Wild Card. Kansas City is 3 1/2 games back of Minnesota.
"That's a huge win," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We needed it. Big win."
Former Royals right-hander Dillon Gee started for the Twins but he struggled, allowing five runs -- all in the third inning -- over 2 2/3 innings. Moustakas provided three runs with his homer in the third, which tied him with Steve Balboni (36 in 1985) for the club mark. It also extended Moustakas' hit streak against the Twins to 17 games, which is the longest active streak in the Majors against any opponent.
"I've been telling you guys the whole time, I'm not really thinking about [the record] too much," Moustakas said. "You know, maybe once it got to 35 it started creeping in my head a little bit. That's when I started trying to do a little bit too much. Tonight, I was kind of relaxed. I just tried to put a good approach together."
Royals right-hander Jason Hammel picked up the win after surrendering four runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings. He ran into trouble early, allowing a two-run homer to Jorge Polanco in the first, but he settled down from there. Polanco added a sacrifice fly in the third and Kennys Vargas knocked Hammel from the game with a one-out RBI single in the seventh.
The Twins made it interesting with two runs in the ninth against closer Kelvin Herrera. Joe Mauer plated two runs on a two-out single with the bases loaded after second baseman Whit Merrifield opened the inning with an error. Herrera left the game with lower forearm tightness while facing Polanco on a 3-0 count and left-hander Scott Alexander was brought in. After he walked Polanco to reload the bases, Alexander struck out Eddie Rosario to end the game and pick up his second save.
"It was a good fight," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We hung in there until the last round, and we were one knock away. It's good to see that to almost pull off something like that for a second straight game. But it's a tough game to overcome the lead they established."
Herrera experienced the same tightness on Aug. 22 against the Rockies, and Alexander came in that game to get his first career save.
"It all kind of happens so quick because you don't ever expect a guy to get hurt in the middle of an inning," Alexander said. "It happens so quick you just try to focus on what's in front of you and not the stuff around you, like the crowd, the guys on base. You just try to block it out and execute your pitches."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Melk man delivers: After a one-out RBI single from Lorenzo Cain in the third, Cabrera followed with an RBI double to left-center that center fielder Zack Granite couldn't quite get to. It helped spark a rally for the Royals, capped by the three-run homer from Moustakas with two out.
Moss is boss: Moss suffered some bad luck in his first two at-bats -- hitting the ball 106 mph and 108.6 mph, according to Statcast™ -- but he grounded out and lined out. In his third at-bat, he crushed a two-run homer off Tyler Duffey to give the Royals a four-run lead. It left the bat at 109.2 mph, traveling a projected 410 feet, according to Statcast™.
"He's a tough out. He's hitting the ball with authority this year. It's always going to be a battle with him. He can change the game with one swing. That's what he did." -- Gee, on Moustakas, his former teammate
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Left-hander Onelki Garcia (0-0, 7.94 ERA) starts the middle game of this crucial series against the Twins on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Garcia, who is making his first start for the Royals, pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief on Sunday against the Indians. He gave up five earned runs, all in his first inning of work.
Twins: Right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-10, 5.59) is set to start the second game of the series on Saturday at Target Field. Gibson is coming off a solid August that saw him post a 3.90 ERA.