MINNEAPOLIS Ned Yost stood nearby on Saturday evening as Yordano Ventura bounded from the Royals dugout and back toward the mound. It was the seventh inning of a one-run game, and Ventura remained part of the proceedings out of necessary.
Yost had seen his bullpen exhausted in the previous two weeks, as his team unfurled a string of 11 victories in 12 games. Their string of success snapped on Saturday as Ventura wilted in a 4-1 defeat.
Twins starter Phil Hughes, the Royals (67-55) offered minimal resistance. Their lone run scored on a Minnesota error. Hughes muffled the Royals for 7 1/3 innings.
Yost entered the day unsure about the availability of his two finest relievers. Wade Davis pitched in four of the previous six days. Greg Holland looked fatigued as he yielded two runs in Friday night's ninth inning. So Yost pondered solutions.
"If Ventura can go seven tonight," he said before the game, then began ticking off the names of his available middle relievers, like Jason Frasor, Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno.
The Twins wasted little time in the seventh. Kurt Suzuki cracked a single to right. It was only Minnesota's second hit of the game. More would follow. Chris Parmalee notched a bunt single when Mike Moustakas couldn't make a barehanded scoop. A subsequent bunt moved both runners into scoring position.
The bullpen began to stir. Crow and Bueno were warming. Yost opted to stick with Ventura. He walked six on the day. But heading into the frame, he had looked solid.
He shattered the bat of leadoff man Danny Santana. A grounder trickled to first base. Billy Butler fired home. Salvador Perez whirled to tag Suzuki, but fell short. The game was tied.
The deadlock lasted all of one pitch. Brian Dozier ripped an RBI double past Moustakas to pull Minnesota ahead for the first time. Joe Mauer added a sacrifice fly to complete the scoring. In the eighth, Crow gave up a solo homer to Suzuki.
Yost had set a reasonable goal for his starter. Ventura had completed seven innings in seven of his first 22 starts. He would not cruise on Saturday. The Twins coaxed three walks in the second inning. Ventura countered with a 92-mph two-seamer at the knees of Chris Parmalee, who ended the inning by rolling into a double play.
Ventura issued his fourth walk to open the third. He followed that with a balk, which prompted a fiery outburst from Yost toward home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds. The delay allowed Ventura to compose himself. He collected a pair of pop-ups, and let Joe Mauer fly out to the warning track in left field to maintain a scoreless tie.
The Royals snapped the deadlock in the top of the fourth. Hughes buzzed through the first three frames. His 28th pitch of the night was a 92-mph fastball. Aoki smashed it into right for a double. After a strikeout by Omar Infante, Aoki catalyzed a run with his legs.
He broke for third on an inside fastball to Perez. Suzuki, the Twins catcher, uncorked an unsightly throw, closer to the shortstop than the third baseman. The ball landed in left field, and Aoki scurried home.
Buoyed by the run support, Ventura found his stride. He gathered his first strikeout by overpowering outfielder Oswaldo Arcia with a 97-mph fastball in the fourth. In the next frame, Parmalee could not catch up with a 98-mph heater and Mauer heard jeers as he waved at a hellacious cutter.
As his teammates sputtered against Hughes, Ventura stayed steady. The in-stadium radar gun clocked his last fastball of the sixth inning, and his 97th pitch of the night, at 100 mph.
There was little harbinger for what would follow, for a costly collapse.
(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at http://www.startribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services