Jake Odorizzi and the Minnesota Twins faced an immediate deficit and trailed by three runs more than halfway through the game.
The way this team has been hitting, though, the rally sure seemed inevitable.
C.J. Cron drove in the go-ahead run with a sixth-inning double , making Odorizzi the second 10-game winner in the majors this season and capping a 5-4 comeback victory by the Twins over the Kansas City Royals on Saturday night.
“Keep us within striking distance, and we’ll be able to, hopefully, come back more times than not,” said Odorizzi (10-2), who fell behind when Jorge Soler smashed a first-pitch fastball 462 feet into the second deck for a two-run homer in the first . Then, Whit Merrifield’s solo shot started a two-run fifth inning that ended with a 4-1 lead for the Royals.
With the Twins (47-22), who have the best record in the majors, such winning offensive performances have become a belief, not a hope. They have the most homers in baseball, on pace to break the all-time season record, not to mention the lead in several other batting categories.
With a solo drive by Max Kepler in the fourth and a two-run smash from Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth, they surged back against Royals starter Glenn Sparkman (1-3). Five batters later, Jorge Polanco tied the game with a double that finished a rally fueled by a fielding error on third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.
Eddie Rosario drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, bringing reliever Scott Barlow into the game. Gonzalez singled, Cron doubled and the Twins were on their way to their 22nd win in their last 29 games.
“We deal with whatever comes our way pretty well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
With four runs allowed, Odorizzi, who is one of a half-dozen or so strong Twins candidates for the All-Star game next month, surrendered as many in this start as he had in his previous eight turns.
Merrifield, his teammate in 2011 with the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, had three of his four hits against his old friend. The 29-year-old right-hander, who made his major league debut with the Royals in 2012, saw his ERA rise from 1.92 to 2.24. Still, Odorizzi finished six innings for the third straight start and kept the Twins close enough when the game could’ve gotten out of hand.
The Twins played in front of their fifth sellout crowd of the season, thanks to the pregame ceremony for Joe Mauer’s uniform retirement . Despite the off night for Odorizzi and three errors in the field, they had enough to ensure the fans went home happy on a memorable evening.
“I don’t think we were meant to lose on Joe Mauer day,” said Odorizzi, who recorded the Mauer ceremony so he could watch and appreciate it later. “So I think that win was for Joe.”
The Royals, who left nine men on and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, had the bases loaded with one out in the third but didn’t score. The leadoff man took second base to start the eighth inning but was stranded. Then in the ninth, the Royals had runners at first and second, but Soler flied out to shallow center field to end the game and give Taylor Rogers his eighth save in 10 attempts.
“Just didn’t quite get to their bullpen like we would’ve liked to,” Merrifield said.
Gonzalez made the defensive play of the game in right field with a diving grab of speedster Billy Hamilton’s line drive to start the ninth, aggressively pursuing the catch with the risk of a triple or inside-the-park home run if the ball were to elude him.
“He had him played perfectly and made a great play,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Billy just smoked that ball.”
Said Rogers: “I was thinking that whoever put Marwin in that position was a genius. Because he was obviously playing in and kind of over.”
Royals: 1B Lucas Duda remained hitless in two games since returning from a back injury that sidelined him for nearly two months, but his sacrifice fly in the fifth was his first RBI since April 16.
Twins: CF Byron Buxton was held out of the lineup with a bruised right wrist after being hit by a pitch the night before. Baldelli said Buxton was available to pinch run or play defense, but he was unsure yet when he could swing a bat at full strength.
Royals: RHP Jakob Junis (4-6, 5.35 ERA) takes the mound for the series finale.
Twins: LHP Martín Pérez (7-2, 3.97 ERA) pitches on Sunday afternoon.
More AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports
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