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KC@MIN: Mendoza strikes out five over eight innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jonathan Broxton came out of the training room after another one of his heart-stopping escapes and sauntered to his locker with a huge smile on his face.

Broxton had just notched his 20th save in support of starter Luis Mendoza's brilliant performance in a 4-3 victory, the Royals' fourth in a row, in the series opener against the Minnesota Twins on Friday night at Target Field. It was the latest white-knuckle, nail-biter for the hulking right-hander.

"Still not one-two-three," Broxton said, chuckling.

When can the Royals expect one of those pristine innings?

"I don't know," Broxton said. "Like Skip [manager Ned Yost] said to me in the dugout, I keep bending but I don't break."

Hoo boy, did he ever bend in the ninth inning as the 88-degree evening came alive and 33,359 fans saw the Twins finally stir things up.

Denard Span opened the Twins' ninth by drawing a walk and Ben Revere's sharp grounder ricocheted off Broxton's left shin toward first base and went for a single. Eric Hosmer sprawled to get the ball but couldn't quite reach the bag before Revere.

"I came out and I just couldn't find it. I couldn't even find it in the warm-ups out there," Broxton said. "In the pen I was good but when I warmed up [on the mound] everything was high and was running on me."

The count went full on Joe Mauer, who doubled down the left field line, driving in a run. It was 4-2, nobody out and two runners in scoring position.

"I got three outs on three pitches after that," Broxton said.

Not quite, he forgot one pitch, but close enough. Josh Willingham hit the first pitch and grounded out to short as the tying run scored.

"We hit some balls hard," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Willingham hit the ball right at the guy. We needed that one to get through there somehow or another."

Mauer had to hold at second, which was a good thing because on a 1-0 pitch, Justin Morneau flied out to center. But instead of scoring, Mauer could only advance to third. And there he remained as Trevor Plouffe fouled out to end the game on Broxton's 26th pitch.

"All that matters, at the end of the day, is that we got that 'W,'" said third baseman Mike Moustakas, who caught the last out. "No matter what way he gets it done, as long as he gets it done."

Yost adopted a what-me-worry attitude afterward.

"Piece of cake," he said, affecting nonchalance.

Actually it was Mendoza who made this game look like a piece of cake. He sailed through eight innings, giving up one run on five hits, and getting stronger as the hot night wore on. He retired the last 13 batters he faced.

The book on Mendoza earlier in the season was that, despite pitching well, he had a difficult time getting through the opponent's lineup the third time through it.

"Earlier in the year he was really struggling the third time around but he just waltzed right through 'em tonight and I suspect Sal had a lot to do with that," Yost said.

Sal is Salvador Perez, the young catcher just back from knee surgery. Mendoza agreed that his guidance was a big factor.

"I'm happy to see Salvador back there. You see what kind of catcher he is. I think I shook him off maybe three or four times the whole game," Mendoza said.

Mendoza issued no walks after issuing 30 passes in his 60 previous innings this year.

"No walks, that's huge for me," Mendoza said. "At the beginning of the season I think I was too fine with my sinker and right now I just try to pound it and make them swing the bat."

Swinging the bat was something the Royals did well, accumulating 11 hits, although they were held to four runs and twice left the bases loaded. Perez got the night's longest blow, dropping an opposite-field home run into the right-field seats off left-hander Brian Duensing in the second inning.

Perez has two homers and a .350 average in the five games since his return from surgery.

"He swings a real nice bat. He's got power to all fields, a good hitter," Yost said. "A good young player. There was method to our madness when we signed him to a long-term extension. We think very highly of him, both offensively and defensively."

Once again the Royals are looking like a team on the rise.

Their four straight victories match their longest winning streak this season. Not only that, they've won 11 of their last 16 games.

That stretch of prosperity began with four straight wins after the Royals were swept in three games at Pittsburgh. Perhaps that's a foreshadowing of more good things. Their last four-game spurt followed three losses to St. Louis.

And the Royals are just four games below the .500 mark for the first time since their disastrous 12-game skid in April. So, with 10 more games remaining on this pre-All-Star Game road trip, their goal of reaching .500 by the break is within reach.

"We've got a chance. That's all we can ask," designated hitter Billy Butler said. "We kept grinding and we kept pecking away and next thing you know, you look at it and we're four games under. We've got a doubleheader tomorrow and we can get two games closer."

Butler and the rest of the Royals could finally take a deep breath in the clubhouse after their closer had another great escape.

"I had to make it real interesting," Broxton said.

Did he ever.

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