What could have been a game-swinging moment petered out into yet another loss for the Twins.
With his team trailing Kansas City by two runs in the sixth inning in the series finale Sunday, Brent Rooker smashed a bases-loaded, two-run double down the left-field line, leveling the score and sparking the Twins' offense that had managed only two hits through the first five innings.
But the Royals answered the Twins' short bursts with steady progress, eventually prevailing for a 5-3 victory at Target Field in front of an announced crowd of 19,496 and taking the series 2-1.
"That was an at-bat that could have played out to be a really important at-bat for us," manager Rocco Baldelli said of Rooker's double. "We didn't get a ton going [Sunday], of course. That was probably our biggest swing of the game in a moment where we really needed something. … We struggled to string some things together and certainly needed to have better at-bats, especially [against] their starter, but against all of their guys."
Byron Buxton seemed to start the Twins' offense with a jolt, doubling in his first plate appearance and eventually scoring on Luis Arraez's sacrifice fly. But the team failed to score again until Rooker delivered in the sixth off reliever Domingo Tapia. Starter Kris Bubic left the game shortly before that after the Twins loading the bases on singles by Buxton and Rob Refsnyder and a walk to Josh Donaldson.
Bubic allowed four hits and three runs, though the run Buxton scored was unearned after he advanced to third on a passed ball. After the sixth, the Royals bullpen clamped down, allowing just one more hit.
The Twins pitching wasn't much better than the offense.
Starter Bailey Ober allowed three hits and two runs through the first two innings, including Adalberto Mondesi's leadoff home run in the second. And while he settled down after that, striking out the next three batters while retiring nine consecutive through the fourth inning, he couldn't quite maintain composure.
"We made an adjustment after those first two innings. We started mixing a lot more, trying not to fall into patterns with the fastball," Ober said. "Our off-speed uses were way higher after that home run. We kind of started keeping these guys off balance and try to speed them up to slow them down. And maybe going forward, that's what we might have to do right off the bat and just kind of sequence a little different."
Ober left after 4⅓ innings, giving up five hits and three runs while striking out six. Top lefty prospect Jovani Moran took the mound for his major league debut with two runners on base facing the top of the Royals batting order. Whit Merrifield hit his second double of the game, this time for an RBI.
Moran admitted to being anxious, especially after he thought he might have pitched Friday after his call-up. Even after giving up two hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 1⅓ innings pitched, he left his first MLB experience feeling "awesome."
Ralph Garza Jr. followed Moran and was the only Twins reliever to enjoy a hitless outing. Jorge Alcala and Juan Minaya both gave up two hits and a run each. Baldelli said while the offense certainly didn't make the pitchers' jobs easier, the hitters did enough to at least keep the game close. But the pitching staff couldn't do its part.
"We could have been more sharp on the mound from top to bottom," Baldelli said. "Some guys, their line in the boxscore might look a little better than others from [Sunday], but the truth of the matter is, I think everyone we had on the mound kind of battled a little bit, weren't really locating or making the pitches that they wanted to."