MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Nelson Cruz hit two of Minnesota’s four home runs and matched his season high with five RBIs, igniting another impressive power display by the first-place Twins during an 8-5 victory on Thursday night over the Kansas City Royals to keep their American League Central lead at four games – with nine games to go.
Miguel Sanó homered and hit the tiebreaking RBI double in the fifth following the ejection of Royals starter Mike Montgomery, who started that inning by giving up a home run to Mitch Garver. The Twins have 293 homers, one more than New York in the chase for the major league record set last season by the Yankees with 267.
Far more importantly in the pennant race, the Twins trimmed their magic number for clinching the division to six, meaning any combination of their wins and Cleveland losses would give them the title. The Indians completed a three-game sweep of Detroit on Thursday.
Sanó, who reached the third deck above left field for the second time in three games, has 31 home runs, as does Garver. Cruz pushed his team lead to 39 homers with a two-run shot in the seventh that landed halfway up the wall of junipers that make up the batter’s eye behind center field. Cruz now has 399 career home runs, tied for 57th place on the all-time list with Andres Galarraga and Al Kaline.
Cruz, who has played in just 113 games due to two stints on the injured list for a strained left wrist, joined Eddie Rosario above the 100-RBI mark. The Twins also set their single-season club record with 885 runs and counting.
The home run derby helped struggling Twins starter Kyle Gibson out. He walked in back-to-back runs in the second inning before being removed with a 3-0 deficit. Dealing all year with ulcerative colitis, a digestive track disease, Gibson has faltered down the stretch, bad timing with the absence of Michael Pineda after his suspension for a banned diuretic.
Lewis Thorpe (4-2), the second of six relievers, worked four innings for the win. Taylor Rogers recorded his 28 saves with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth.
THE FOUL MONTY
Montgomery allowed seven hits and five runs in four innings. During a visit to the mound by pitching coach Cal Eldred after Garver’s home run, home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez came out to urge them to wrap it up. Montgomery had words for Gonzalez, who warned the left-hander before giving him the heave-ho after Montgomery kept jawing at him. He chucked the ball toward the plate on his walk off the mound and slammed his glove against the bench upon reaching the dugout.
Jacob Barnes (1-3) relieved him and gave up the double to Sanó that center fielder Erick Mejia nearly caught after a long run but had pop out of his glove.
Twins RF Max Kepler (left shoulder soreness) was rested for the fifth straight game and the eighth time in the last 10 games.
Royals: LHP Eric Skoglund (0-1, 8.36 ERA), who has taken the place of RHP Jakob Junis in the rotation, will pitch on Friday night for his first start since Aug. 30. Junis was shut down at 175 1/3 innings as a precaution due to his season workload. Skoglund pitched four innings in relief on Sunday.
Twins: Manager Rocco Baldelli declined before the game to declare his starter for the second game of the series, but rookie RHP Devin Smeltzer remained a strong possibility for the opening created by Pineda’s suspension. Smeltzer pitched three scoreless innings on Saturday.