The Twins are slowly finding their way back to the top of the American League Central.
Sonny Gray pitched six-plus shutout innings, and seven Twins each drove in a run as Minnesota beat the Kansas City Royals, 9-0, in front of an announced crowd of 23,093 at Target Field on Tuesday.
“We just come here to play baseball,” said infielder Luis Arraez, who went 4 for 5 to raise his major league-leading batting average to .336. “That’s the thing, I know we can do a lot of good things. We can come here and do a lot of things in the game like today.”
The victory, coupled with Cleveland’s 7-5 loss to Detroit, pulled the Twins within one game of the Central-leading Guardians. They started this homestand on Monday trailing by 2½ games.
“We are a good team,” Gray said. “That’s it. … We’re a good team.”
In two victories this week, the Twins have knocked 27 hits against the last-place Royals, 23 of them singles. On Tuesday, the Twins had 16 hits, and only Gliberto Celestino’s solo home run and Nick Gordon’s RBI double went for extra bases.
“It’s clearly having a plan, clearly going in there and using the whole field, knowing what to look for, knowing what to focus your attention on,” Baldelli said of his offense. “Trying to take the tough pitches to get to the ones that you want.”
Gio Urshela and Gordon each drove in two runs, and Arraez, Celestino, Jose Miranda, Max Kepler and Sandy Leon each drove in one. The nine runs were the most the Twins had scored since an 11-1 victory at Cleveland on June 27.
Gray (7-3) allowed only three hits, didn’t walk a batter and tied a season high with 10 strikeouts in six innings. He faced two batters in the seventh, surrendering singles to Salvador Perez and Vinnie Pasquantino before manager Rocco Baldelli replaced him with left-hander Caleb Thielbar.
Pitching into the seventh, Gray said, “felt great.”
“I told Rocco, I said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity. I will be better in that situation next time,’ ” he added.
As he did in Monday’s 4-2 victory over the Royals, Thielbar got the Twins out of a two-on, none-out jam. The first batter he faced, Michael Massey, grounded into a fielder’s choice, forcing Pasquantino, 3-6. He then struck out Michael Taylor and Nick Prato to end the inning and retain Minnesota’s 3-0 lead.
“That’s two days in a row for Caleb to come in in huge spots and to absolutely maneuver his way, dominate his way through some hitters,” Gray said. “He did it last night, he did it again tonight. That’s huge, what he’s done.”
Veteran right-hander Zack Greinke (4-8) allowed three runs, one earned, on nine hits and struck out five over six innings. Leon drove in the Twins’ first run, scoring Urshela with a sacrifice but in the second inning. Arraez then singled home Celestino – who had reached on an error – before being thrown out at second.
Celestino hit a hanging breaking ball from Greinke off the ribbon board in left field for the Twins’ third run.
Minnesota scored three two-out runs in the seventh, one on a fielder’s choice grounder by Kepler and two on two-out RBI singles by Urshela and Gordon. Miranda, Urshela and Gordon added run-scoring singles in the eighth to make it 9-0.
It was the Twins’ second straight win since returning from a 1-4 trip through Southern California against the Dodgers and Angels, which dropped them 2½ games behind Cleveland in the Central, their biggest Central Division deficit since they were three out on April 17. Afterward, Arraez said, the team gathered for a meeting.
“We just talked,” he said. “Sonny talked. (Carlos Correa) talked. Those guys are amazing. We just come the next day and we just play baseball and enjoy it. I just want to give a lot of energy to my teammates, like we did today. We just played baseball and enjoyed the game.”
The AL Central rivals finish their three-game series with a matinee on Wednesday.