When you play 162 games, every game is important and no game is weighed more heavily than the others. At least, that's what we're told.
Some games just feel more important than others. The Royals had two of them this series. On both Friday and Sunday, Minnesota came into the game having won the previous day, looking to put together its first two-game winning streak in nearly a month. Both games, the Twins had the opportunity to pull within 2.5 games of the Royals in the AL Central division. These were games that the Royals needed to win, and both times, they came through in front of enormous crowds.
Eric Hosmer drilled a walk-off double, his first walk-off hit since June 12, 2013, and Kansas City pulled back up to 4.5 games ahead in the American League Central. After suffering through a miserable slump, Hosmer drilled a 1-1 offering from southpaw Aaron Thompson into the right-field corner, scoring Lorenzo Cain all the way from first base. It was easily the hardest ball Hosmer has hit in weeks, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Royals.
As if a battle between the top two teams in the AL Central wasn't intriguing enough, former Royal Ervin Santana was making his season debut for the Twins. Santana signed the biggest free agent contract in Minnesota history just before being suspended for 80 games. He was making his first start at Kauffman Stadium since pitching for Kansas City in 2013.
Minnesota struck early by scoring one in the second and one in the third, the latter of which was a solo home run by Aaron Hicks. After that, Danny Duffy settled down nicely to throw a quality start, firing 6 1/3 innings of five-hit ball. He allowed those aforementioned two runs, walked three, and struck out one. Two double plays and a sterling diving catch by Alex Gordon helped his outing, as Minnesota hit a handful of hard-hit ground balls that were right at Kansas City defenders. Either way, it has to be encouraging to see Duffy continue to make progress as he recovers from injuries and his pitiful start to 2015.
Trailing 2-0, Omar Infante led off the third inning with a four-pitch walk, and after moving to second base on a sacrifice bunt, scored on Drew Butera's one-out single. The next Kansas City hit wouldn't be until the fifth inning when Alex Gordon lifted a hanging slider just over the right-field wall for his 10th home run of 2015.
Santana, overall, was terrific. He pitched eight innings for the first time since July 28 of last year, yielding just three hits and two runs while throwing 93 pitches. Eight Royals struck out against Santana; Corey Kluber is the only starter to fan more Kansas City batters in a start this year with nine.
As for Kansas City's pitching, Duffy was relieved with one out in the seventh after surrendering a leadoff walk to Miguel Sano, who was bunted to second base by Eddie Rosario. Ryan Madson retired the next to hitters to strand Sano at second. Wade Davis worked around a one-out double to pitch a scoreless eighth inning, lowering his ERA to 0.25 in the process. Greg Holland (2-0) threw the ninth inning to pick up the win. He was aided by another amazing catch by Gordon that would have ultimately led to a run, keeping the game tied long enough for Hosmer to play the hero.
With the win, the Royals moved back up to 4.5 games in front of Minnesota. It was a critical game for Kansas City, which burned four more games off the schedule without losing any ground to the Twins.
The only other part of this game to report on is that Mike Moustakas unexpectedly gave way to Dusty Coleman in the sixth inning. Ned Yost said after the game that it was because of a family emergency, but as of writing this, nothing more is known.
Weird-but-true: 48 hours ago, the Royals and the Yankees were the only two teams in baseball without a walkoff win. They've both gotten two of them since.
One more stat: Royals pitching wasn't as sharp as it's ever been this series, but the staff did hold the Twins to 6-for-34 with runners in scoring position. That'll play.
Up next for the Royals: Tampa Bay, losers of seven of its last eight, comes to town for a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium. Edinson Volquez (8-4, 3.48 ERA) will oppose Alex Colome (3-4, 4.70).