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Sano strikes for Twins with 12th-inning pinch-hit blast

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. If this is what playoff baseball is like, and it sure felt like it Wednesday, then Miguel Sano might come in really handy in the postseason.

But first, he has to get them there.

The rookie slugger did his part in the 12th inning Wednesday, coming off the bench to provide a cannon shot of a home run that stunned the Kansas City Royals faithful into silence. His pinch-hit home run, the Minnesota's first in more than two years, gave the Twins a 3-2 victory and an enormous shot of adrenaline.

The game was the last of six straight road games against first-place teams for the Twins, and they survived their tour of Houston and Kansas City without damaging their standing in the AL wild card chase. By winning the series with the Royals, the Twins head to Chicago with a split of these six games and the same 11/2 game deficit to the Texas Rangers that they had when they departed Minneapolis.

The Twins escaped serious jams twice in the late innings, though one of those rescues may prove costly. Kurt Suzuki, who broke up Royals starter Kris Medlen's no-hitter with a sixth-inning home run, injured his left knee in a collision with Jarrod Dyson at home plate. The out was recorded, but Suzuki's knee was bruised, the Twins said, and he's day-to-day.

The Twins had not put a runner past first base for more than four innings when Sano, given the night off to rest his sore right hamstring, was summoned to hit for Suzuki's replacement, Chris Herrmann, with the bases empty and two outs. The rookie fouled off a couple pitches from Franklin Morales, the Royals' sixth reliever, took a few bad ones, and arrived at a full count exactly where Sano wanted him.

The next pitch was a 94-mph fastball, and Sano crushed it, nearly as high as it was deep, carrying to the Royals' Hall of Fame building beyond the left-field seats. It was Sano's 16th home run of the season, and his sixth with a full count, just one behind MLB leader Chris Davis' seven.

The game was tense all night, in part because Medlen and Twins starter Mike Pelfrey had much to pitch for namely, their jobs. Medlen is battling for a spot in the Royals' postseason rotation, and Pelfrey is trying to save his own starting spot, with Phil Hughes' return growing closer.

Medlen didn't allow the Twins a hit through the first five innings, until Suzuki disrupted his reverie with a line drive that came down near the Royals' bullpen, his first home run in a month. Pelfrey had little trouble getting through Kansas City's lineup twice, but Ben Zobrist triggered one of those 180-degree Pelfrey meltdowns by lining a pitch into the Twins' bullpen.

It's too soon to say whether either pitcher accomplished his employment-protection goal, but Pelfrey, perhaps making his final start as a Twin, at least gave his manager something to ponder, albeit in another short start. He left his critical start with a lead, though one the bullpen could not hold in place. Trevor May surrendered a triple to Zobrist that turned into the tying run on a Lorenzo Cain sacrifice fly.

The Royals left the winning run on third base in the ninth, when Eduardo Escobar knocked down Alex Rios' grounder, picked it up and barely got Rios at first.

An in the 10th, Zobrist walked, and pinch-runner Dyson stole second and third. With the Twins in a five-infielder formation Eddie Rosario joined the infielders, reprising his days as a minor-league second-baseman reliever Blaine Boyer grabbed a one-hopper to the mound, turned and lobbed it to Suzuki. The catcher jumped into the baseline to catch it, and collided with Dyson as he grabbed it for the game-saving out. He left the game, however, after the collision.

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