KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A three-run rally capped by an error that looked like a sight gag. A blown save and 53-pitch outing by one of baseball's best closers. A loss by another All-Star closer.
The Twins and Royals don't have a rivalry. What they have is, well, just odd.
Minnesota fell behind 3-0 early, rallied with the help of the bumbling Royals and had to pull it out after some unusually tense moments from Nathan (2-1).
What else did they expect?
"When we play the Royals, it's a mess," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It always is a mess because neither team gives up, neither team quits and there's always strange things happening during the games. It was just another typical Twins and Royals game."
Minnesota seemed to have it locked up.
Nick Blackburn gave the Twins a chance with seven solid innings, giving up solo homers to Billy Butler and David DeJesus and not much else. The Royals helped out by blundering their way through a three-run sixth inning that tied the game at 3-all. Then Minnesota went ahead 4-3 on Denard Span's run-scoring single in the eighth and handed the ball over to Nathan in the ninth.
Nathan entered with a career ERA of 0.73 against the Royals and had converted 31 of 34 save chances this season. The hard-throwing right-hander got the first two hitters, then had pinch-hitter Brayan Pena down 1-2 in the count.
Game over, right?
Pena brought the crowd to its feet with a roar -- they had been dueling the large contingent of Twins fans all night -- with a solo homer to right, tying the game at 4-all.
"When the count got to 3-2, I was thinking 'Just put ball in play and try not to strike out,'" said Pena, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games. "And then I got lucky."
The stadium still buzzing, Yuniesky Betancourt nearly ended it, hitting a ball that hit just under the top of the wall in left-center. He ended up with a double and Nathan got DeJesus to fly out to center.
The Royals turned to their closer in the 10th, but Soria (3-1) had just as much trouble as Nathan.
Soria, who had converted 12 straight save chances, allowed a one-out single to Alexi Casilla then Cabrera sliced a triple down the line in right. Defensive replacement Willie Bloomquist had trouble with the carom -- Josh Anderson had his problems earlier in the game -- and the Twins went up 5-4.
It still wasn't over.
Nathan allowed a one-out single to Butler in the 10th, then Bloomquist blooped a single to center. Even with his closer's pitch count running high, Gardenhire decided to leave Nathan out there. After an 11-pitch battle that resulted in Alberto Callaspo's flyout, he figured that was enough and started out to the mound.
"We waved me off -- I've never been waved off before," Gardenhire said. "But that's your closer, that's what he does."
He was right. Seven agonizing pitches later, Nathan ended a long, bizarre night with his 53rd pitch, getting Mark Teahen to line out to right.
"To come out of the game right there, there's no chance," said Nathan, 4-0 career against Kansas City. "Right there, I'm going to win it or lose. I felt like that was a situation for me to get this game done."
The Royals gave the Twins a chance -- and ruined starter Luke Hochevar's solid outing -- with a blooper-reel sixth inning.
Carlos Gomez opened with a single, stole second, and reached third on catcher Miguel Olivo's throwing error. Casilla hit a run-scoring double, then went to third on a wild pitch. Span followed with a Little League homer, circling the bases after Anderson couldn't cut off his shot down the line and had the ball slip out of his hand like an ice cube as he tried to throw.
Span was credited with a run-scoring triple, Anderson an error and Kansas City's 3-0 lead was gone in a flurry of foulups.
"It was a good battle and game," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "Obviously, we made some mistakes."
Kansas City leads the majors with 70 wild pitches. ... Twins RHP Matt Guerrier made his 300th career appearance, pitching the eighth. ... Nathan had allowed three earned runs his previous 25 innings at Kauffman Stadium.