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Royals’ offense falters late in loss to Twins

Lynn Worthy The Kansas City Star (TNS)

Thanks to this season's condensed 60-game Major League Baseball schedule, with a heavy emphasis on geographical matchups, the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins are hardly able to escape each other this month.

Well, now it seems they may already be getting tired of each other.

A pair of solo home runs by Hunter Dozier and Alex Gordon lifted the Royals to an early lead, but their offense largely sputtered thereafter. Meanwhile, the Twins made Royals rookie pitcher Brady Singer regret a few crucial mistakes as the hosts bounced back and handed the Royals a 4-2 loss at Target Field Sunday afternoon.

The Royals (9-13) will try to earn a split of the four-game series Monday night. So far, each of the first three games has finished with a 4-2 score.

If there was any doubt their three two-run games over the weekend have been hotly contested, the chirping back-and-forth between the teams after the end of Sunday's game cleared it up.

At the end of the telecast and during Fox Sports Kansas City's postgame show, play-by-play broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre and postgame show host Joel Goldberg noticed players on both sides exchanging words and the umpires getting into an exchange with a noticeably upset Vance Wilson, the Royals' third base coach.

The broadcasting crew, while operating remotely, have live feeds that show the entire field.

"A little taunting going on," Royals manager Mike Matheny said of the exchange. "I think what you're seeing is the result of being able to hear everything each bench says. You can't take emotions out of this game, either.

"A little taunting to our side and our boys didn't like it a whole lot."

A video clip from FOX Sports North showed Twins closer Sergio Romo celebrating a strikeout of Jorge Soler to end the game, yelling "keep talking" while making a talking gesture with his hand towards the Royals' dugout.

"We can't take the emotion out of it — either side — but it's got to be under control, too," Matheny said. "I think that was the frustration — (when) the umpires see that stuff, they need to jump on it and get it figured out and cancel it before it gets out of hand, or else it'll get out of hand."

The AL Central Division rivals are in the middle of a stretch in which they play 10 times in a 17-day span -- and that's with three off-days mixed in.

Potentially adding fuel to the fire for the preseason-favorite Twins (14-8) is the fact they've lost just eight games this season, and half of those losses have come against the Royals — including a three-game KC sweep last weekend at Kauffman Stadium.

Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez, who was at the plate when the Royals' bench started barking about a called strike, downplayed the taunting between the teams.

"I think a lot of teams are going through this," Lopez said. "There's no fans in the ballpark. You literally hear everything. What one person might say, other people might portray it as something else and think that you're going at them. But really we're not. That's just the negative of not having fans in the ballpark."

Lopez, who has a slash line of .300/.440/.550 in his last seven games, moved up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order Sunday.

Twins right-hander Randy Dobnak had allowed just one home run in his previous 12 games in the majors. He entered the day with the best ERA in baseball (0.92) through four starts despite relying heavily on pitching to contact — 11 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Dozier, who began the season on the injured list as he recovered from a COVID-19 infection, got the day started with his first home run of the season. He lifted the first pitch he saw from Dobnak for an opposite-field solo shot with two outs in the first inning.

In the second, Gordon snapped out of an 0-for-15 slump when he turned on a 3-0 sinker and blasted it into the right-field stands for his second home run of the season. Dobnak hadn't allowed more than one run in any of his previous four starts this season.

Singer (1-2) allowed three runs on four hits and four walks, including a pair of leadoff walks that came back to haunt him, in 5 2/3 innings. Two of the runs he allowed came on a two-run homer by Max Kepler in the fifth inning.

"I keep saying it's just one or two mistakes a game," Singer said. "I did that again. I'm still learning each and every time, which is good. I've just got to obviously take away some of the mistakes. Other than that, I felt really good."

The Twins took advantage of miscues in the third inning to push across their first run. Singer walked No. 9 hitter Alex Avila, then allowed him to advance on a wild pitch and a balk. Avila scored on a groundout by Jorge Polanco.

Kepler gave the Twins a one-run advantage in the fifth. Singer walked Avila again to start the inning and Kepler made Singer pay by smashing a 1-0 sinking fastball that ran back over the middle of the plate down the right-field line and onto the concourse for a two-run homer.

Singer had success against left-handers throwing fastballs that started off the plate inside and then ran back over the inner half.

"That's definitely something I have a problem with, balls that run a little too much," Singer said. "My front shoulder flies open and I get on the side of the ball and it runs across the whole zone instead of having a little bit of sink. It obviously ran back over the middle of the plate and right for his barrel."

Dobnak retired 11 consecutive Royals batters after Gordon's homer. That streak extended into the sixth inning.

The Royals put two men on with one out in the sixth after a Whit Merrifield single and a Lopez walk. But Dozier lined out to left, where Eddie Rosario made an outstanding sliding catch. With both runners in motion before the pitch, Merrifield got easily doubled off second to end the inning.

The Twins tacked on a run in the seventh against reliever Greg Holland on a double, an infield single and an RBI bunt by Polanco. That made the score 4-2, and that's the way it stayed.