Royals rely on clutch relief, hits against Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — Three takeaways from the Royals’ 8-6 victory over the Twins on Sunday afternoon, a triumph that avoided a three-game sweep at Target Field.

“That was work, but it turned out good,” manager Ned Yost said. “We had some big heroes … it was a good win.”

Phenomenal bullpen efforts

No doubt that four of those heroes were relievers Scott Barlow, Jake Diekman, Wily Peralta and Ian Kennedy.

Barlow came in for starter Jakob Junis with the bases loaded in the fourth, two out, and the Royals clinging to a 3-2 lead. Barlow promptly struck out Nelson Cruz. “That was a big, big out,” Yost said.

After Jorge López, who got his first win since his near-perfect game here Sept. 8, left with two on and one out in the seventh, and the Royals ahead, 5-3, it was Diekman’s turn to shine.

Diekman gave up a solid single to Marwin Gonzalez, loading the bases. But Diekman struck out Jonathan Schoop and then got pinch-hitter Mitch Garver to fly out.

“I just wanted to get soft contact,” Diekman said. “I think they have the best record in the [Majors] for a reason.”

The biggest star likely was Peralta. After Brad Boxberger let all four hitters he faced reach base, two of them scoring, Peralta came in the eighth with an 8-5 lead and runners on second and third and none out.

Peralta got Eddie Rosario to pop out, then he struck out Miguel Sano looking, and got Gonzalez to fly out.

“He came in on the attack,” Yost said of Peralta. “That’s the best stuff I’ve seen him have all year. He was just lights out.”

Peralta said his stuff was, indeed, exceptional.

“I feel like my last two outings here were pretty much the best I felt all year,” Peralta said. “I was locating my pitches and made good pitches when I had to.”

Kennedy got into a little trouble in the ninth when a grounder eluded shortstop Adalberto Mondesi for a hit, a fly ball was misplayed by right fielder Jorge Bonifacio for a double, and a walk suddenly put Cruz at the plate representing the potential winning run with two out. But Kennedy struck him out on three pitches — all cutters.

“We started with the cutter and it wasn’t the plan to go back to it,” catcher Martin Maldonado said, “but [Cruz] acted like he didn’t see it well. So we went back to it the next two times.”

Added Yost, “He hadn’t gotten a hit off Ian in his career [0-for-8] coming in so I felt pretty good if Ian could locate his pitches. But we also knew that Cruz is big and strong.”

Big tack-on runs

Yost may have gotten his favorite gift on Father’s Day — his beloved tack-on runs. The Royals took a 3-2 lead into the seventh and built it to 8-3 going into the bottom of the eighth.

Maldonado had three hits, including two big RBIs — one on a single in the second and the other on a double in the eighth.

“I made an adjustment with the hitting coaches,” Maldonado said, “and moved my hands a little bit. I’m getting more comfortable with it.”

Bonifacio also delivered two big RBIs, including a run-scoring double in the eighth.

“We needed those tack-on runs,” Yost said. “[First-base coach] Mitch [Maier] came up to me when we were up by five and asked me if we should still run. And I said, ‘Against this team? Heck, yeah. They’ll put five runs on you in a heartbeat.’”

Junis not sharp

Junis struggled with his command from the start. He needed 46 pitches to navigate through two scoreless innings.

That lack of command finally caught up with him in the fourth. The right-hander left a 2-2 slider thigh-high to Sano, who blasted a solo homer to center. Junis got ahead of Gonzalez, 0-2, then hit him with a back-foot slider.

Another single put runners on first and second. Junis did get two outs, but he then threw a middle-middle fastball to Max Kepler, who knocked an RBI single to center. After an intentional walk, that was it for Junis.

Junis gave up two runs over 3 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.

“Just one of those days,” Yost said. “He was grinding and grinding. He would bend but never broke. But his pitch count got him.”