MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Kepler went 3 for 4 with a slump-busting RBI to give Minnesota's lagging lineup a lift, and the Twins started a vital homestand with a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night.
Kepler snapped an 0-for-29 skid with his one-out single in the second inning against Royals starter Kris Bubic (2-7) that scored Jorge Polanco, setting in motion a productive night for a Twins team that went 0 for 18 with runners in scoring position over the previous two games.
Polanco, Jose Miranda and Gary Sánchez each drove in a run for the Twins, who moved within two games of AL Central-leading Cleveland after the Guardians split a doubleheader with Detroit. The Twins started the day percentage points ahead of Chicago White Sox for second place.
Joe Ryan (9-5) pitched 5 1/3 innings for the win, deftly recovering from a two-run home run by thriving rookie Vinnie Pasquantino in the first inning.
Caleb Thielbar relieved him with a 3-2 lead and runners at second and third, retiring pinch-hitter Brent Rooker on a shallow pop fly and striking out pinch-hitter Michael A. Taylor to end that threat. Thielbar pumped his first and screamed in exhilaration after retiring Taylor to preserve the lead.
New Twins closer Jorge López, who blew his last two save chances, gave up a double and a single in the ninth inning before escaping with a game-ending double play grounder by M.J. Melendez.
Pasquantino hit four homers over Kansas City's just-completed 11-game homestand and received the AL Player of the Week award a few hours before first pitch.
The 24-year-old, who was an 11th-round draft pick in 2019 out of Old Dominion, was one of seven rookies in the starting lineup for the Royals. That was the most for the club in a game since 1991. Pasquantino and Melendez combined for eight home runs and 20 RBIs on the homestand, over which the Royals went 7-4.
The youth infusion has given the Royals some late-season life, even if they're buried in the playoff race once again. The Twins were the ones searching for a spark, stumbling home from a 1-4 road trip to Southern California that shoved them out of first place for the first time in nearly two months.
This was the time to get going, the first of 13 home games in a 17-day stretch through the end of the month - all against teams that started the week at the .500 mark or worse.
Royals: Hunter Dozier was placed on the paternity list before the game, and Maikel Garcia was recalled from Triple-A Omaha to fill in for the multi-positional player who has taken most of his turns at 1B and RF. Dozier traveled to Minnesota with the team, before leaving to be with his wife who has been expecting their third child.
Twins: OF Kyle Garlick, who has missed the last 12 games with an injury to his ribcage suffered in a collision with the outfield wall in San Diego, has been lightly playing catch but remains unable to swing or throw at full strength.
Royals: RHP Zack Greinke (4-7, 4.29 ERA) takes the mound on Tuesday night. He's coming off his best start of the season, 6 1/3 shutout innings in a win over Chicago last week.
Twins: RHP Sonny Gray (6-3, 3.33 ERA) pitches the middle game of the series. He beat Kansas City on May 29 with six innings, two hits, one run and no walks in a 76-pitch performance.
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