KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Justin Morneau and his 30 home runs and 100 RBIs went out for the rest of the season with an injury, the Minnesota Twins were two games below .500 and their playoff hopes were in trouble.
Michael Cuddyer stepped in for Morneau at first base and the Twins have stepped up in a playoff run.Cuddyer hit his 30th homer and walked with the bases loaded and the Twins moved within two games of first-place Detroit in the AL Central with a 9-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.The Twins, who have won 10 of 11, open a four-game series in Detroit on Monday. They have moved a season-high seven-games above .500 (80-73)."It's hard not to glance at the scoreboard," said Nick Punto, who scored the game's first run in the third when he came around from second base on a wild pitch by Robinson Tejeda. "If anybody says they are not scoreboard watching, they are straight up lying. We have to take care of our business, but it's human nature to look at that scoreboard."The Twins can do scoreboard watching thanks to Cuddyer, who has six home runs and 18 RBIs in 11 games since replacing Morneau as the everyday first baseman.Cuddyer homer in the fourth ended Tejeda's streak of retiring 43 consecutive right-handed hitters, the longest stretch in the majors this year."You know the damage Cuddyer can do," Minnesota starter Carl Pavano (13-11) said. "Morneau went down and true professionals have this innate ability to step up when they need to. Cuddyer is enjoying this. Last year he had a tough injury-ridden year. He watched the team battle without him and I think it truly bothered him he couldn't be part of that. Now he's part of something special. He's been consistent all year and these last two weeks he's stepped it up unbelievably. The hits he's gotten are big hits, big home runs, big RBI home runs. I can't say enough."Twins manager Ron Gardenhire can't say enough about Cuddyer either."Cuddyer continues," Gardenhire said. "He's been huge. It's a big pick up because of Morneau going down. He's making the plays at first base. And the other side of it, offensively he's really, really swinging well."Billy Butler had four hits and drove in all the Royals' runs with two home runs, his third multihomer game of the season. Butler hit a solo homer in the fourth and a three-run shot in the fifth that pulled the Royals within 6-4."I'm just trying to help the team win," Butler said. "The last few games is the story of our year. We beat the Red Sox the first two and then play the way did the last three [all losses]. We've got to be more consistent than that."The Twins sent 10 men to the plate and scored four runs in the fifth, but had just one hit, Orlando Cabrera's run-scoring single. Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Cuddyer all walked with the bases loaded. Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt committed his third error in two games in the inning, making one of the runs unearned.Pavano gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings for the victory."Butler hurt me, but luckily we scored more runs," Pavano said.Tejeda (4-2) was 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA in his first four starts since replacing the injured Gil Meche in the rotation, but he walked seven in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. He gave up just two hits, but was charged with six runs."I lost command on my breaking pitch, no reason," Tejeda said. "You've going to have to handle a tough day. The Twins don't swing crazy. They make the pitcher throw the pitch they want. If I had more command in the strike zone, today might have been different."Delmon Young homered in the ninth and tripled in a run in the seventh. Mauer walked three times and went 0-for-2, his major league-leading average dropping to .370.
Twins LHP Francisco Liriano will start Sunday, his first since Aug. 17 when he lasted only two innings against Texas and went on the disabled list with arm fatigue. ... Royals trainer Nick Swartz is retiring at the end of the season after 33 years with the organization, including 21 with the big league club. ... Royals RF Mark Teahen was scratched with lower back problems. Teahen returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing nine games with lower back spasms. ... Royals LF David DeJesus, who left the game Thursday with an illness, did not play Friday.