Royals offense didn’t slow down this time to avoid series sweep by Twins

The Royals’ offense demonstrated a tendency to fizzle out late in games this season, but it kept applying pressure and made the Twins pay for late-inning mistakes. As it turned out, the Royals needed nearly every one of those late runs to avoid a series sweep.

Five runs in the final three innings were crucial for the Royals in a 8-6 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in front of an announced 38,886 at Target Field, the third consecutive sellout and the largest three-game total since the Twins hosted the Chicago Cubs on June 19-21, 2015.

The Royals led by as many as five, 8-3, in the eighth inning, but they needed clutch late-inning exploits of relievers Wily Peralta in the eighth and closer Ian Kennedy in the ninth to secure the win.

“That team, that’s what they do all year and that’s why they’ve got one of the best records in MLB all year,” Royals catcher Martin Maldonado said. “They put some good at-bats together and they never give in. They just have good at-bat after good at-bat after good at-bat after good at-bat. … That’s why they’re where they are right now.”

The Royals (23-48) continue their road trip with a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners on Monday night in Seattle.

Maldonado went 3-for-4 and registered his second three-hit game of the season. He also drove in a pair of runs and scored a pair. Jorge Bonifacio collected two hits and two RBIs, while Billy Hamilton also drove in two runs.

Maldonado made an impact on social media by wearing a light blue necktie attached to his chest protector behind the plate for Father’s Day. The tie had the nicknames of family members, close friends as well as his father and his brother on it.

Maldonado said he ordered the tie to go with his catching gear.

“I just tried to do something different for all the fathers out there,” Maldonado said. “Family members, good friends, just something to wear for them.”

Royals starter Jakob Junis finished the outing having allowed two earned runs on five hits and three walks (one intentional) in 3 2/3 innings. He also struck out five and hit a batter. Junis had gone six innings or more in four of his past five starts, but Sunday was his shortest outing of the season.

The Twins scored both of their runs off Junis in the fourth. Miguel Sano’s leadoff solo home run started it. His towering smash hit a little shy of halfway up the ivy batter’s eye behind the center field wall.

The homer was the seventh of the season for Sano and the 15th allowed this season by Junis. With two outs, Max Kepler’s RBI single to center field pulled the Twins within a run, 3-2.

Royals manager Ned Yost called upon reliever Scott Barlow with two outs and a pair of runners in scoring position. After an intentional walk to load the bases, Barlow struck out designated hitter Nelson Cruz swinging to end the inning.

Part of the Royals’ downfall in the previous night’s loss had been a failure to score again after they’d tallied four runs in the first five innings. For the season, they’d entered the day having been outscored 210-141 from the fifth inning on. Sunday, they turned that around for at least one game.

The Royals tacked on two runs in the seventh. Hamilton’s sacrifice bunt allowed Nicky Lopez to score from third on a close play at the plate. With two outs in the seventh, Adalberto Mondesi’s rocket to third base ate up Twins third baseman Sano and allowed Maldonado to score from second.

With the Royals up 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Cruz hit a 3-1 pitch from reliever Jorge Lopez, who took over in the fifth, to deep center for a solo homer. Left-hander Jake Diekman came on in relief with one out and two runners on in the seventh.

Diekman gave up a single that loaded the bases, but he got out of the inning with a strikeout and an inning-ending fly ball to keep the score 5-3 going into the eighth.

“You come in situations like that and want to get the quickest outs you can,” Diekman said. “... You want to just damage control.”

The Royals added another three runs in the eighth when Cheslor Cuthbert reached on an error and scored on Bonifacio’s RBI double. Maldonado followed two batters later with an RBI double, his third hit of the game. Hamilton added an RBI single as they increased their lead to 8-3.

The Twins scored two in the eighth against reliever Brad Boxberger to make the game a bit tighter, but Peralta came in and shut things down with no outs and two runners in scoring position. Peralta retired three batters in order.

Kennedy gave up an infield single and a fly ball to right field that Bonifacio misplayed into an RBI double with two outs in the ninth. Kennedy then walked Jorge Polanco, which put the winning run at the plate, but he struck out Cruz to end the game.

“We had some big heroes in the pitching department,” Yost said. “Diekman, Peralta, Barlow came in bases loaded in that situation and got us out of a bases-loaded jam with the lead. Lopez did a great job, 2 1/3 innings and holding us right there. Of course, Diekman and Peralta were fantastic.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.