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Span's career night sparks Twins in KC

Span's career night sparks Twins

KANSAS CITY -- For the early part of Saturday evening, it looked like all the Twins might need to do was score some runs off Royals starter Lenny DiNardo and their deficit in the American League Central would shrink to one game.

The scoreboard in left field at Kauffman Stadium showed that the White Sox had taken a 5-0 lead through four innings against the Tigers. At a time when the Twins could use the help in their pennant chase, it appeared that perhaps they were being given an opening to gain ground for the second consecutive night.

Instead, the Twins' offensive outburst in their 11-6 victory on Saturday could only help them keep pace with the Tigers. Minnesota remained two games back of first-place Detroit following the Tigers' 12-5 comeback victory.

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"Everybody in the dugout was looking at that," Denard Span said in reference to the Tigers' score. "It's kind of unfortunate, but at the same time, we know we need to take care of our business. As long as we win, then we'll see Detroit next week."

Taking care of themselves is what the Twins have been doing. Span delivered a career-high six RBIs and starter Scott Baker held the Royals to four runs over his 6 1/3 innings to give the Twins their 11th win in their past 12 contests.

"They're playing well right now," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "We've got to be at our best to beat 'em with the momentum they've got going right now."

That momentum on Saturday night involved getting their leadoff hitter back to himself after he missed the final two games in Chicago due to getting hit in the back of the helmet by a Randy Williams 91-mph fastball on Monday night.

Span delivered a two-run single in the sixth and an RBI single in the eighth to help add insurance against the Royals. But the highlight of the night came thanks to his three-run triple in the fourth, when the Twins managed to finally get to DiNardo in a five-run inning.

Span finished the night going 4-for-5 with the six RBIs to pace the Twins' 13-hit attack.

"I don't' think I've had [six RBIs] at any level," Span said. "Just a night where it feels like nothing can go wrong. You see the ball and it seems like every pitch seems like a beach ball. You swing and it looks like it's going to fall."

"I was really happy to see him get right back in there and right back where he left off -- that's huge," said Baker. "That can definitely affect a guy mentally, and it shows that he's mentally strong. That's a testament to the type of player he is."

It helped that Span had plenty of runners on base when he did get to the plate. The bottom of the Twins' batting order continued to produce, as Nick Punto reached base three times with three walks and Matt Tolbert delivered three hits in the contest.

Joe Mauer added a two-run double in the eighth, going 2-for-4 to raise his Major League-leading batting average to .371.

For an offense that had been struggling to score runs earlier this month, those troubles now seem to be just a distant memory.

"I think it's an overall confidence," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the change in his offense. "We get behind and there is a confidence on the bench, saying, 'Let's go. We can get this guy. Put some good swings on it.' Guys are working counts, taking pitches. It's basically whatever it takes. ... It doesn't matter how, or who is in there -- just win ballgames."

Minnesota's offense had to work from behind on this night, as well. Baker didn't get into a rhythm until after he gave up back-to-back home runs to Alberto Callaspo and Brayan Pena to start the second inning. The pair of homers put the Twins in an early 2-0 hole.

But following the two homers, Baker retired 13 straight batters and faced the minimum from the third through the sixth innings. He was tagged for two runs in the seventh, as he was charged for a total of four over his 6 1/3 innings, but still managed to hold on to capture win No. 14 on the season.

"I threw a couple breaking balls where they could get to them; just not good two-strike pitches," Baker said of the two homers he gave up. "[After that], I just basically started making better pitches when I was ahead in the count."

While Baker kept his team in the game, the night was about Span and his impact since returning. Perhaps that's part of the reason why Gardenhire wasn't around to see the end of his team's own win, after earning his sixth ejection of the season and the 47th of his career in the eighth inning.

The Twins skipper came out to argue after home-plate umpire Eric Cooper issued warnings to both benches due to Ron Mahay's pitch that came inside near Billy Butler. In the top half of the inning, Michael Cuddyer was hit by a 96-mph fastball from Kyle Farnsworth. And he was not happy to have a warning issued.

"I'm not a warning guy," Gardenhire said. "I'm not a fan of it."

But rather than focus on what happened at the end of Saturday's contest, the Twins are now looking ahead to Sunday.

While Minnesota has only one game remaining against Kansas City before its four-game showdown with Detroit, completing the series sweep could be a challenge. For the first time this season, the Twins will face Royals ace and AL Cy Young Award candidate Zack Greinke.

Thanks to their win on Saturday night, the Twins ensured that when they arrive in Detroit on Monday, their deficit will be no larger than three games -- which is where they stood when they opened up their three-game set with Kansas City.

But they'd like it to be less, of course.

"It's going to be a big task with Greinke going, but we have to try to win that ballgame tomorrow and go in there at two or one game back depending on what happens with [the Tigers] on Sunday," Gardenhire said. "We'll take that. We'll take our chances and see what happens."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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