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Royals great foe on getaway day

By Jim Souhan

McClatchy Newspapers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kauffman Stadium might be the perfect place to play a getaway day game, as the Minnesota Twins learned Wednesday.

The field was a sun-baked beauty, cooled by a soft breeze. Twins fans, continuingly craving outdoor baseball, cheered loudly when Michael Cuddyer hit a home run to start the scoring. Traffic on the way to the airport was light.

And there was this: On a getaway day game at Kauffman, you get to play the Kansas City Royals, one of the better Major League Baseball teams in the entire Kansas City metro area.

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The older version of the Lansing Lugnuts didn’t put up much fight Wednesday, as the Twins won 5-1 to take the series and finish 6-3 on their Aging Midwest Cities Tour of St. Louis, Milwaukee and KC. You got the sense that Styx booked the same itinerary, and was shadowing the Twins at nearby casinos.

Twins starter Glen Perkins continued to display his savvy, teasing the Royals with pitches off the plate anytime they mounted their version of a "rally" — meaning they put someone on base. Cuddyer homered, Joe Mauer went something like 5-for-3, Denard Span started locating his swing, and Carlos Gomez drew a walk. A walk! What are the odds?

It was a lovely afternoon for the Twins until one-third of their team started, in current baseball parlance, "getting blown up."

Bumps and bruises

Catcher Mike Redmond took a foul ball off his right forearm and was forced to depart. The Twins said X-rays were negative, but Redmond left the clubhouse wearing a heavy wrap, looking like a character from "Mad Max."

Shortstop Nick Punto took a body block from Royals "slugger" Jose Guillen and had to leave because of a sore back.

"That was a dirty slide, no doubt about it," Cuddyer said. "He went way out of his way, and I don’t know why."

Most ominously, first baseman Justin Morneau left the game because of a strained groin muscle.

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Here’s one man’s handicapping of the importance of the injuries:

  • Morneau: Not that important, because he plays through everything. Remember a few years ago, when Torii Hunter, a few Twins coaches and some jerk of a local columnist questioned the durability of Mauer and Morneau? Now the M&M Boys seem to be competing with each other for innings played.
  • Redmond: Sorry to put it this way, because Redmond has been such a wonderful presence in the clubhouse, but it’s not that important because Mauer is playing so much and Jose Morales is a far superior hitter.
  • Punto: Strangely, with a fan base that loves to blame all of the Twins’ problems on Nicked-Up Nick, this is the one that should worry you the most, because the Twins’ famed farm system has nobody to replace him.

Alexi Casilla, according to the Twins’ reports, continues to play lackadaisically at Class AAA Rochester. If he returned to the big leagues and played well, he could turn this lineup into a dynamo, but he has lost the faith of the big-league field staff. The other alternative, Steven Tolleson, can hit but is a concern in the field.
Homestand starts Friday

When Punto is healthy, the Twins at least can count on good fielding up the middle, and aren’t completely reliant on the struggling Matt Tolbert.

After their disgusting performance Monday night, the Twins did what they had to do Tuesday and Wednesday, beating the Lansing Lugnuts two times in a row. It is typical of the Twins’ season that in the last game of the road trip, Joe Nathan took the sign from Morales, then induced a grounder that Brian Buscher fielded.

Morales was replacing Redmond; Buscher was replacing Morneau; and Nathan was in the game only because R.A. Dickey had trouble getting the last out.

Nothing is easy or pain-free for the Twins, but they are getting better. "This is a different team than the one I left when I went on the disabled list," Perkins said. "We’re playing a lot better, and I sense a lot more confidence."

The Twins face the Tigers, Yankees and White Sox in the homestand that begins Friday. Now that they’ve cruised through the interleague-and-Lugnuts portion of the schedule, we might know a lot more about this team in 11 days.

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