Success vs. KC continues for Twins
Baker combines with 'pen to lead Twins to third straight win
KANSAS CITY -- Pat Neshek was frustrated with home-plate umpire Larry Poncino. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning on Tuesday night, Neshek fell behind on the count to pinch-hitter Ross Gload. Pitching coach Rick Anderson made a rare mound visit in the middle of the at-bat.
"He just tried to settle me down a little bit," Neshek said. "He tried to reinforce, 'Get a ground ball, get a ground ball.'"
Neshek regrouped and threw a fastball. The red-hot Gload, who carried a .333 average in his last 20 games, bounced into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
"I hugged [Anderson]," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I really did. That was a huge double play."
Neshek's clutch pitch summarized the Twins' evening. They allowed 16 runners, but only three scored. Scott Baker and a quartet of relievers evaded jams all night in a 6-3 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"Guys have come up with some big pitches and some good defensive plays and that is what it takes," Gardenhire said.
After leaving 10 men on base in Monday night's game, the Royals left 13 on, including six with two outs and men in scoring position. Overall, Kansas City, which tied a season-high with its seventh straight loss, finished 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
After Baker worked 5 2/3 solid innings, Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier bridged the game for Joe Nathan's 32nd save.
The bullpen finished with 3 1/3 shutout innings and has posted a 0.96 ERA in the three-game win streak. During the six-game losing skid last week, the bullpen lost several leads and finished with a 6.98 ERA.
"It starts to carry over when guys are throwing good," Guerrier said. "For awhile, we were all kind of struggling at the same time. We weren't getting beat around, but we were giving up runs and we were making it tougher on the team to get wins."
Everything started with Baker, who allowed three runs or fewer for the sixth straight time and the eighth time in his last nine starts. He didn't have the command and control in his last start against the Royals, an Aug. 31 outing where he came within three outs of a perfect game and finished with a one-hit, complete-game shutout.
Instead, Baker had to battle all night.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, Baker allowed baserunners in every inning. He was nicked for two runs in the third, but struck out Mark Grudzielanek to end the threat. Two innings later, he had the tying run at the third with less than two out and coaxed two popups.
Overall, Baker allowed 10 hits and one walk. When he found himself in trouble, Baker resorted back to his same successful plan: Pitch to contact. Don't try to overpower guys. Let the defense do the work.
"I didn't want to walk anybody, so I just continued to throw strikes," Baker said. "If guys hit it, then they hit it. If they didn't, then they didn't. I just tried to continue to make good pitches and they hit it at a few guys. That was the story of the night. Just let him hit it at guys."
Baker delivered the third straight strong outing for the Twins and helped line up the bullpen. In the losing streak, Gardenhire often had to use his bullpen early and on back-to-back days.
"He made pitches when he had to and got us deep into the game," Gardenhire said of Baker. "If we get our bullpen enough rest, they come in and make good pitches. It is when we get beat up a little bit that it doesn't work out for us."
With Minnesota ahead, 4-3, Baker left a two-on, two-out jam for Rincon in the sixth. Mark Teahen grounded out -- the first of many key outs for the bullpen. After the inning ending, Baker showed his exuberance in the dugout.
"As a starting pitcher, you don't like [leaving guys on]," Baker said. "It doesn't matter who is coming in or what the situation is, you don't like leaving guys on base. Juan did an excellent job. That was a huge out. It worked out well."
The same situation happened in the seventh. With runners on first and second and one out, Gardenhire called for Neshek. The submariner walked Billy Butler and nearly walked Gload. Anderson went out to the mound to talk with Neshek -- and bide time for Guerrier in the bullpen.
However, Neshek -- who has held left-handed batter to a .165 average this season -- kept Guerrier in the bullpen. Gload turned over the fastball and Minnesota pitched around another jam. Guerrier and Nathan allowed baserunners in the final two innings and still kept KC from scoring.
"When we were doing good, we were awesome and when we were bad, everyone kind of suffers," Neshek said. "We are pitching good. We might have a few bumps and bruises, but I have full trust in everybody."
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.