Minnesota’s Scott Baker loses perfect game in ninth of Twins’ 5-0 win over Royals

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Three outs from history, Scott Baker jogged out to the mound and calmly took the ball for the ninth inning—a perfect game dangling right there in front of him.

Nervous? Not this cool Cajun from Louisiana.

“What did I have to be nervous about?” Baker asked. “I pitched a great game, no matter how it worked out.”

First Baker lost his bid for a perfect game, then one out later fell short of a no-hitter. Still, he led the Minnesota Twins over the Kansas City Royals 5-0 in the second game of a day-night doubleheader Friday.

Baker entered the ninth inning with a chance for just the 18th perfect game in major league history. But with a Metrodome crowd of 24,986 cheering, he went to a 3-0 count leading off on John Buck.

Buck took a strike before the next pitch went inside and plate umpire Jim Wolf called ball four.

“I thought the first one was borderline,” Baker said. “But the umpire did a fantastic job.”

Esteban German grounded into a forceout and Mike Sweeney, activated from the disabled list between games, pinch hit and blooped a two-seam fastball to left-center for his first hit since June 16—and his third hit in four career at-bats off Baker.

“It’s been so long since I had a hit in the big leagues I was going to ask him for the ball,” Sweeney cracked.

Baker, a 25-year-old right-hander sensed immediately that the ball would fall in for a hit but recovered to get the one-hitter, retiring David DeJesus on a flyout and Mark Grudzielanek on a lineout.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work out tonight, but it’s still a great game, I can’t complain,” Baker said.

Baker (8-6) struck out a career-high nine and threw 111 pitches in just his second complete game in 44 major league starts. When he took the ball in the ninth inning, Baker had retired 38 straight Royals, dating to his start against Kansas City on July 30.

Gil Meche (7-12) allowed just three runs and seven hits in seven innings, giving up a two-run single to Jason Bartlett in the third and a sacrifice fly to Justin Morneau in the fifth.

Until the ninth, Baker went to a three-ball count just once. DeJesus worked the count full leading off the game, then flied out.

“It thought we were going to get it,” Twins catcher Mike Redmond said. “I thought, `This could be it.’ That’ll be something I’ll remember for a long time.”

Baker, who just a year ago was demoted to the minor leagues, almost didn’t start this one. He returned to the Twins on Wednesday after spending time in Louisiana with his newborn son, Easton, and his wife, Leeann. Easton was born five weeks premature on Aug. 24 and is doing fine.

“All I can say is when you have a child or something of that nature, it just puts things in perspective,” he said.

Baker’s only previous complete game in 43 major league starts was a three-hitter in a 1-0 loss at Detroit on July 1.

“I did the best I could,” Baker said. “What else can I do? Why would I be upset about anything? It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Ross Gload homered and drove in three runs in the opening 9-4 victory for the Royals, who set up Matt Garza up for another rough game at home by scoring three times in the first. Minnesota made three errors and left 11 runners on base.

“I think we just went from one of the worst games we’ve played all year to almost perfect,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Garza (3-5) gave up nine hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings while striking out six. He was charged with eight runs, though only four were earned, and fell to 0-9 with a 6.40 ERA in 10 career home starts.

“Not worried about it. I’m eventually going to win here. Just keep pounding it out,” Garza said.

Kyle Davies (2-3) beat Minnesota for the second time in three weeks, his only AL victories since joining Kansas City in a trade with Atlanta on July 31. Davies gave up four hits, three runs—two earned—and one walk in five innings while striking out five.

Gload’s two-run shot against Matt Guerrier, who relieved Garza with one out in the sixth, capped a five-run rally by the Royals. The ball smacked one of the folded-up football seats above right field that was used the night before for a Vikings preseason game.

“They made a couple of mistakes, and the gates just opened up a little bit after that,” said Emil Brown, who drove in two runs. “When we had a chance to get them, we kept going after them.”

Metrodome crews worked past the wee hours to reconfigure the stadium for three baseball games in a span of just more than 24 hours. Friday’s afternoon contest was a postponement from Aug. 2, the day after the fatal freeway bridge collapse near downtown Minneapolis.

The Twins and Royals will play again Saturday morning, with a first pitch shortly after 11 a.m. local time, to accommodate college football between Minnesota and Bowling Green later that night.

As Baker got dressed, he didn’t lament the missed opportunity, instead looking forward to seeing Leeann, Easton and the couple’s other son, Elijah, all of whom attended the game.

“I’m sure they want to talk to me,” he said with a smile.

Notes

So much for bringing your glove to the game: One woman sitting about 20 rows up from third base held up a red plastic bucket to make a clean catch of a foul ball by Minnesota’s Alexi Casilla in the sixth inning of the first game. … The roof makes rainouts moot, but the Twins have played twice in one day at the Metrodome before. They scheduled a doubleheader in 2001 against the Athletics for promotional purposes.

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