Twins pound Bannister in opener against Royals

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—For the first time in a long time, everything went Minnesota’s way on Tuesday night.

A 7-2 victory over the lowly Kansas City Royals and Toronto’s sweep of a doubleheader against AL Central-leading Chicago has the Twins just one game back in the division race.

Less than 48 hours after their 11th loss in 15 games had them holding on for dear life in the AL playoff picture, they are right back in the mix.

Denard Span had three hits and scored two runs and Justin Morneau homered to lead the Twins to a convincing victory over the Royals that helped relieve some of the pressure that came with their recent struggles.

“It’s just about having fun,” reliever Jess Crain said. “I think we kind of lost that. We were pressing a little too much.”

Jose Guillen had three hits and an RBI and Miguel Olivo homered for Kansas City.

Since taking a half-game lead on the White Sox on Aug. 22, the Twins had won just four times to fall 2 1/2 back with 19 games to go coming into Tuesday. So they needed to pile up wins in a hurry, especially at home against last-place Kansas City with a 10-game road trip looming after this series.

“Every win we can get right now is really important,” starter Nick Blackburn said.

Blackburn (10-8) allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings and the Twins roughed up Brian Bannister (7-15), who gave up seven runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings.

Bannister’s struggles continued one streak while ending another. The right-hander has gone 13 straight starts without a victory and has a loss in six of his last seven outings. His last win came on June 23 against Colorado.

If ever the drought was to end, it figured to be on Tuesday night against the Twins. He entered the night 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in five career starts against Minnesota, but Span and the Twins finally figured him out.

Span was 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored against Bannister, and Morneau finished him off with a two-run homer that just got over the baggie in right field to give the Twins 7-2 lead in the fourth.

“I love pitching in this ballpark. It’s a great atmosphere and I feel like I know this lineup real well,” Bannister said. “It just seemed like everything they hit tonight seemed to fall into place.”

Despite holding down last place and starting the day 19 games behind the White Sox, the Royals still have a chance to play a big role in the division race this September. Nine of their final 20 games are against the White Sox and Twins, including a three-game series to wrap up the season at the Metrodome starting Sept. 26.

Manager Trey Hillman said before the game that the Royals don’t plan to lay down for either team.

“We all have a responsibility to not only try to plan for the future,” Hillman said. “But there’s a bigger responsibility for me to put the best team on the field every day.”

After watching left fielder Ross Gload’s half-hearted effort in chasing down a hit by Carlos Gomez allow the speedster to stretch a double into a triple and Guillen nearly get thrown out at first base while loafing out a single to right field, Hillman was left wanting more.

“I wasn’t pleased with our overall performance,” he said. “There were a couple of areas we could’ve played the game harder and we need to.”

Notes

Guillen nonchalantly strolled to first on a single to right in the sixth inning and RF Span made a throw to first base on a play that was a lot closer than it should have been. Guillen threw up his arms and glared at Span, then dismissed him with a wave of his hands. … Hillman said Alex Gordon, on the disabled list with a right hip flexor tear, “probably thinks he’s farther along than he actually is.” If all goes well, Gordon could be activated this weekend against Cleveland. … Brian Buscher went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Joe Mauer had two RBIs for the Twins.

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