"We misplayed a ball in right, didn't see one down the third-base line and threw one away on a steal," Gardenhire said as he quickly rattled off the key elements of Kansas City's five-run rally in the fourth. "That's the ballgame. It's a game we felt we should have won if we make the plays we're supposed to make."
Maybe it was an omen when left fielder Jason Kubel lost a routine fly ball in the sun in the second inning, which resulted in an Alex Gordon leadoff double. Twins starter Kevin Correia worked around that defensive problem, but he couldn't withstand all the fielding issues in the fourth.
The Twins had jumped to a 2-0 lead and felt they could have had more against wobbly Royals starter Bruce Chen. Kurt Suzuki homered for the first time in his career as a designated hitter and Correia was off to a good start. But then, the momentum changed following a leadoff single by Gordon in the fourth. Billy Butler, who has been a struggling hitter, launched a ball to right field and converted outfielder Chris Colabello took a step in the wrong direction. Colabello couldn't recover and the ball sailed over his head for a double.
Instead of one on and one out, the Twins were in a mess with runners at second and third and none out. The seeds for a big inning had been planted.
"I took a dropstep in the wrong direction," Colabello said. "I got twisted around and didn't think he had hit it that good. Not too many people feel worse about it than I do."
It appeared briefly that Correia might minimize the damage when Mike Moustakas lifted a sacrifice fly that cut Minnesota's lead to 2-1. Correia had the bottom of the order to deal with and No. 8 hitter Justin Maxwell delivered an RBI single to knot the game at 2. It was the first hit for Maxwell this season.
Correia then hit No. 9 batter Alcides Escobar with a pitch and Nori Aoki lashed an RBI single wide of third that froze Trevor Plouffe, who never saw the ball until it was by him. An RBI single by Omar Infante made it 4-2 and Aoki culminated the rally by stealing third and scoring on catcher Josmil Pinto's throwing error.
"Baseball is a weird game," Colabello said. "We had an inning the other day where we walked eight times and scored six runs. They were able to capitalize on some mistakes. Kevin pitched great. He deserved better than that."
Colabello had another adventure in the outfield when he collided with center fielder Aaron Hicks on a deep drive by Moustakas. Hicks was able to come away with the ball, but it underscored the point that Colabello's outfield play is a work in progress as he makes the transition from first base.
"I try the best I can," Colabello said. "There are obviously some balls that I still need work on. The toughest play for an outfielder is the hard-hit ball right at him. Every day, I get out there and keep working at it. I'm not going to stop trying."
Suzuki got the Twins back in the game with a two-out, two-run single off Chen in the fifth. But once the Royals went to their bullpen, the Twins' offense was stopped cold. Danny Duffy, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined for four hitless innings with six strikeouts and just one walk to firmly seal the win.
"Duffy throws the living fire out of the ball," Gardenhire said. " We know he can misfire a little bit, but the ball really comes out of his hand. Same thing with the last guy [Holland]. We try to make them throw the ball over the plate. When they do that, it makes it tough on you because they have great stuff."
Suzuki was hopeful his two-run single in the fifth would jumpstart the Twins again after the crazy fourth inning. But as it turned out, their scoring chances completely dried up after Chen was lifted.
"We put ourselves in striking distance," Suzuki said. "But their bullpen did a great job of keeping us down."
Royals manager Ned Yost said he felt in the fifth inning that his bullpen might need to protect a one-run lead the rest of the way.
"The bullpen has been lights out," Yost said. "That was as good as Wade Davis has thrown. He came out of the gate with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball. Holland was at 96-97. And Duffy has been great since we got him up here."