MINNEAPOLIS — Luis Mendoza, everyone.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
The Royals opened an 11-game road trip Friday night by getting a career-best performance from Mendoza in a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
And, yes, closer Jonathan Broxton created another circle-the-wagons finish that, somehow, again ended well. Good thing, too. It would have been criminal for the Royals to waste what Mendoza had delivered.
This is the first time Ive thrown eight innings in the big leagues, he said, and I just feel happy. I just worked my sinker. Ive been doing it all season. This time, I got my ground balls, and they didnt find holes.
Mendoza, 3-4, pitched a career-high eight innings while throwing a career-high 115 pitches. He limited the Twins to one run and five hits while striking out five and walking none. He was quick, efficient and marvelously effective.
He did a very good job of establishing the inner part of the plate, Twins shortstop Brian Dozier said. When pitchers establish that early, you have the hitters on their toes and conscious of the inside part of the plate.
And while this was Mendozas best outing yet, its tantalizingly becoming a trend.
He now has three quality starts in four games since rejoining the rotation while allowing an accumulative eight runs in 24 1/3 innings. That translates to a 2.96 ERA, and the Royals, in their search for reliable rotation work Will. Take. That.
Just to get another opportunity is big for me, Mendoza said. They gave me the opportunity to start again, and Ive just got to take it and make the most of it show them I can start games.
Maybe Ive been more aggressive lately. Im just trying to pound the zone. Earlier in the season, I walked too many guys. Right now, Im trying not to walk anybody.
Broxton protected Mendozas gem but not without the now-expected anxiety. He gave up two runs in the ninth inning on two hits and walk. The Twins, silent all night, had the tying run in scoring position with no outs.
Piece of cake, manager Ned Yost deadpanned. Its always been my experience that good closers know how much theyve got to work with. Hes been a guy who will bend a little bit in these situations, but very seldom does he break.
Its his job. You let him get his job done. You know what? He got the save, and we got the win. Thats all that matters.
Offensively, the Royals did enough from 11 hits to generate four runs. It could have been more, maybe should have been more, but it was enough.
Just enough as it turned out.
Alex Gordon, Yuniesky Betancourt, Salvy Perez and Alcides Escobar each had two hits. Escobars average is up to .318, by the way, while Perez hit his second homer in five games since returning from a season-long stay on the disabled list.
The victory lifted the Royals to within four games of .500 at 35-39 and they havent been that close to break-even since falling to 3-7 on April 16 when they were five games into a 12-game losing streak.
It also means they can achieve their goal of climbing back to .500 at the All-Star break by going 7-3 over the rest of the trip: three more in Minnesota, four in Toronto and three in Detroit.
A tall order, but who knows? The Royals are 32-25 since ending that 12-game skid.
Weve got a chance, said designated hitter Billy Butler, whose two-out single in the first inning opened the scoring against Twins starter Brian Duensing.
Thats all we can ask for, and we kept grinding, and weve kept pecking away. The next thing you know, you look at it, and were four games under. Weve got a doubleheader (today), and we can get closer (today).
Duensing, 1-4, lasted just four-plus innings in his second start after 30 relief appearances. He gave up eight hits but just three runs. The Minnesota bullpen kept the game close, but Mendoza had all of the answers.
Mendoza even stared down his third-time-through-the-order demons. Opponents had been batting .548 in their third at-bat in his previous eight starts, but Mendoza retired nine straight on the lineups third cycle from the sixth through eighth innings.
I think its because I just stayed aggressive, he said. Stay with my sinker to lefties inside and to righties inside, too. It worked well, too. I felt strong all night. I think my velocity stayed the same all game long. I just tried to keep going.
The Royals scored single runs in the first, second, fifth and seventh innings. The Twins got their only run against Mendoza in the second on Ryan Doumits two-out RBI single.
That meant Broxton inherited a 4-1 lead to start the ninth and trouble started immediately. He issued a leadoff walk to Denard Span before Ben Revere reached on an infield single.
That got the game to the middle of the Twins order with no outs.
Joe Mauer lined a full-count pitch into the left-field corner for an RBI double that put the tying runs on base. It was the Twins first extra-base hit of the game and the crowd of 33,559 was at full roar.
Josh Willinghams sharp grounder to short produced an out but scored Revere and cut the lead to one run. Justin Morneau hit a fly to deep center, but Jarrod Dyson ran it down; Mauer moved to third.
Broxton survived, though, as he usually does. He closed out the victory by retiring Trevor Plouffe on a foul pop to third baseman Mike Moustakas for the final out and his 20th save in 23 opportunities.
All that matters, Moustakas said, is at the end of the day that we got that W. It doesnt matter what way he gets it done as long as he gets it done. But how about Mendy? Thats a great performance.
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.