MINNEAPOLIS — In his first game in a week, and still a little bleary-eyed following the birth of his twin baby girls, Joe Mauer stepped to the plate and promptly ripped the first pitch he saw for an RBI-single.
The proud papa looked sharp as ever for the Minnesota Twins. The same could not be said for starter Mike Pelfrey, who was sluggish and lethargic from the start.
Pelfrey lasted just four innings, giving up four runs on eight hits in Minnesota's 7-2 loss to the surging Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.
"I was exhausted," said Pelfrey (4-9), who threw 93 pitches to a patient Royals battery. "Four innings is brutal. I would have liked to get a lot deeper, obviously."
Mike Moustakas homered twice and drove in four runs for the Royals, who have won seven straight and nine of 11 since the All-Star break. Ervin Santana (7-6) gave up two runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven innings, but Pelfrey was left lamenting a 2-0 fastball he grooved to Moustakas in the third innings.
Moustakas slammed it to one of the deepest parts of Target Field in right-center for a three-run homer that gave the Royals a 4-2 lead.
"That one pitch to Moustakas changed the whole game," Pelfrey said.
It was a sudden and crashing halt to a nice little rebound for Pelfrey. The big right-hander posted a 2.28 ERA in his last four starts, looking more comfortable on the mound in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. But the aggressiveness, control and location that he had displayed so promisingly in those starts was nowhere to be found Tuesday night.
"It looked like he was picking at the plate an awful lot rather than attacking the zone," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "One thing he's been doing is attacking the zone. Pace of the game means a lot. He kind put everybody on their heels and he understands that. Just not a good night for him."
Mauer had two hits and an RBI for the Twins, who managed just three other hits from their remaining nine hitters. The All-Star catcher missed six games to be with his wife, Maddie, who gave birth to girls Maren and Emily last week. The girls were born a few weeks early and remain in the hospital for observation. But Mauer said they are healthy and happy.
"It's been a heck of a week," Mauer said. "It's been an awesome experience. It's good to be back on the field. But I'm going to try to get out of here and go see them tonight. Can't wait to get back to them."
Eric Hosmer had three hits and an RBI for the Royals (52-51), who are over .500 for the first time since May 18.
Ryan Pressly pitched three innings of perfect relief to keep the Twins in the game. But another homer from Moustakas in the eighth essentially put the game out of reach. The Twins' offense never really got going, thanks to Santana. The right-hander retired the last 10 batters he faced, including five strikeouts in the dominating outing.
"He's the magic man," Moustakas said. "It's awesome. Any time he goes out on the mound, you know he's going to deal, you know he's going to hold them under two runs and we just gotta go score a couple for him."
The specter of the non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday afternoon was hanging over both teams as they opened the series. The Twins are mired in their third straight losing season, a miserable, lifeless year in which they've shown few signs of being competitive in an AL Central division that could be the worst in baseball.
Longtime cornerstone Justin Morneau has heard his name raised in trade rumors, as have several of the team's accomplished relievers, including setup man Jared Burton and left-hander Brian Duensing. General manager Terry Ryan said before the game that it was no secret the team was in sell mode, but he said he couldn't make a prediction of whether a deal would get done before the deadline at 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
NOTES: Duensing had another rough outing, giving up three runs on four hits in one inning of relief. ... Twins 2B Brian Dozier had an MRI on a sore knee, but Ryan said the exam came back clean. He was held out of the game for precautionary reasons. ... The Twins send RHP Kevin Correia (7-7, 4.56) to the mound for Game 2 on Wednesday night to face Royals RHP Jeremy Guthrie (10-7, 4.27).