MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins clubhouse, clouded so often this season by fog machines for the post-victory dance parties, was crystal clear and eerily quiet following the 160th game on the schedule.
This postseason bid by the upstart Twins took a big hit.
Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double in the eighth inning against struggling All-Star Glen Perkins, and the Kansas City Royals topped the Twins 3-1 on Friday night behind a strong start from Chris Young.
"You can feel it," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It's deflating for sure."
Perkins, hampered by neck and back trouble that led to his removal from the closer role, spoiled a stellar performance by starter Ervin Santana (7-5) with a first-pitch fastball that Zobrist drove off the wall in right-center field. Zobrist then scored when right fielder Torii Hunter fumbled a single by Mike Moustakas, another blemish on an awful second half for Perkins.
"This is a hard one to swallow," Hunter said.
The Twins dropped two games behind Houston and one back of Los Angeles in the AL wild-card race. With two days left to make up ground, this was as devastating a defeat as they've had in 2015. The Angels beat Texas to pass the Twins, and the Astros routed Arizona.
Here the Twins were, playing a game that mattered on Oct. 2, a testament to their resiliency under the rookie manager Molitor this season following four straight years of mostly bad baseball. The paid attendance of 31,534 wasn't quite a postseason crowd, but there was a palpable energy in the ballpark, with a hearty standing cheer for Santana as he walked off the mound and doffed his cap in the eighth.
"Ervin had his good stuff tonight, man," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You just knew it was going to be a tight game."
Young was just as good, giving the defending AL champion Royals another reason to consider the 6-foot-10 right-hander for the postseason rotation. He allowed just an RBI single by Aaron Hicks in the third. The 36-year-old gave up four hits in 6 1-3 innings, retiring 15 out of 16 batters at one point.
In three starts against the Twins this season, Young surrendered just two runs and 11 hits in 18 innings.
"The weather, the sun setting early, it's a fun time of year," Young said, "and it's fun to be a part of it."
Louis Coleman (1-0), Ryan Madson and Wade Davis wrapped up the win, with Davis notching his 16th save in 17 attempts.
Santana didn't join the Twins until July 4, due to the positive test for a performance-enhancing drug that made him ineligible for the postseason, but he gave them quite the push down the stretch while most of the rest of the rotation stumbled to the finish. Over his last seven turns, Santana logged 50 innings with a 1.62 ERA while the Twins went 5-2.
Santana only had more than one man on base in the third, when Jarrod Dyson hit a leadoff double and eventually scored on a grounder by Eric Hosmer.
"It was tough. They were pitching very good. Nothing we can do," Santana said.
BAD AFTER THE BREAK
Perkins, a three-time All-Star who was 28 for 28 in save opportunities in the first half, has allowed at least one earned run in 11 of 22 appearances after the break for a 7.32 ERA.
"We're all are aware that it's not coming out quite the same," Molitor said. "I think physically he's fine."
Royals: Three banged-up regulars were held out of the lineup, with CF Lorenzo Cain (knee), DH Kendrys Morales (quadriceps) and C Salvador Perez (thumb) on the bench, but Morales entered as a pinch-hitter, Yost said Cain should be ready to play on Saturday, and Perez was rested with the afternoon game next.
Twins: Molitor indicated Santana would be summoned on shortened rest to pitch in a tiebreaker game, which he would be eligible for.
Royals: RHP Yordano Ventura (12-8, 4.20 ERA) will start on Saturday. He's 8-1 with a 3.26 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 80 innings over his last 13 turns, and the only loss in that stretch was to the Twins at home on Sept. 7.
Twins: LHP Tommy Milone (9-5, 4.04) will take the mound in the middle game of the series, coming off a critical win at Cleveland on Monday following an 11-day break due to weakness around his shoulder.