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Royals win in Minn, 3-1, pull even in the AL Central

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Jason Vargas takes one to the junk and still outduels Phil Hughes, with a little help from his 'pen.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Pavlovian conditioned response onlookers have when Jason Vargas pitches--one of unease, a feeling that the wheels are always just two pitches from screaming off the axle leading to the vehicle exploding violently and many maimed bystanders--the left-handed hurler worked through the Twins lineup with startling efficacy. That he took a liner to the onions, got the out at first, and pitched another inning and a third turns the six-inning, 70-pitch outing into the nearest thing to a Herculean effort that the Royals rotation has seemed capable of lately.

The typical Vargasian tightrope walk was not without its tense moments. The most notable wobble came in the third inning when Vargas allowed an infield single to Brian Dozier with runners at second and third. Given the ball's relatively slow roll up the third base line, Eduardo Escobar was unable to advance home, loading the bases for near-Royal Torii Hunter. Mercifully for Vargas, Hunter grounded to Alcides Escobar at short, who flipped the ball to Omar Infante, starting the 6-4-3 double play.

Trailing the first-place Twins by a game in the standings and possessing a 2 - 0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, Ned Yost elected to turn to the bullpen and Ryan Madson rather than send Jason Vargas out for another frame, opting for caution following the comebacker to the business rather than managing to pitch count. Usually steady-handed, Ryan Madson yielded a two-out walk-scraping dong to rookie Eddie Rosario and then gave up back-to-back singles to Eduardo Escobar and Aaron Hicks before striking out Dozier with the go-ahead run standing at first base.

Vargas's counterpart, Phil Hughes went seven-and-two-thirds innings, taking 104 pitches to get to within one out of finishing the eighth inning. He left with Mike Moustakas at third and Lorenzo Cain at first after consecutive singles, nursing a 2 - 1 lead. Hughes's big mistake was a 91-MPH fastball down the pipe that Kendrys Morales shot 432 feet into the stands in deep right-center. When one is not careful to avoid the Cubanoid, dong can get hung. Hosmer was standing on first base when Hughes made the mistake, and the Royals found themselves up 2 - 0 in the second inning. Hughes accumulated just three strikeouts and one walk, that walk being to perhaps the unlikeliest of candidates, Salvador Perez. Leaving the game with runners on the corners, Hughes saw Aaron Thompson allow an immediate single to Eric Hosmer, plating Hughes's third earned run, and then uncork a wild pitch that Kurt Suzuki saved from becoming another run against Hughes in the scorer's book.

Wade Davis walked Torii Hunter to start off the eighth inning but induced an 0-1 grounder to second baseman Omar Infante, starting off a routine, base-clearing double play before striking out Trevor Plouffe to end the frame.

The bottom third of the Royals' order squandered an Alex Gordon lead-off walk in the top of the ninth. Here entered Greg Holland with a 3 - 1 lead. Though Holland's workload could hardly be classified as heavy or awe-inspiring this past month, Holland struck out Kennys Vargas on what looked like an 86-MPH change-up, got Kurt Suzuki to ground out to second, and finished the Twins off with an infield fly to third. That Greg Holland was mixing in both a change-up and a curve sitting in the mid-70s was unusual, but he dropped the cambio in for multiple swinging strikes, a pleasant development.

The win draws the Royals into a virtual tie with the Twins, who have won and lost one more game than the Royals. It is also just Kansas City's fourth win in their last 13 contests.