Meche wins in return from DL as Royals beat Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins started this week with hopes of closing ground on the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.

They had the lowly Kansas City Royals in town and the Tigers were at Fenway Park to play the heavy-hitting Boston Red Sox. But the week quickly turned into one of missed opportunities -- on the field and in the division.

Gil Meche was victorious in his return from the disabled list and the Royals dealt the Twins a major setback in the AL Central with a 5-4, series-clinching victory Thursday.

Meche (5-9) gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings of his first start since July 11, and the Royals won their first series since a trip to Houston on June 23-25.

The Tigers lost three of four to the Red Sox, but after dropping two to the Royals, the Twins are right back where they started the week: five games back.

"When they're losing we need to win," Justin Morneau said. "It's a little frustrating when you go through that, when we have the chances and we don't get it done."

Joe Mauer had a double, a homer and four RBIs and Orlando Cabrera extended his career-high hitting streak to 22 games. But Minnesota left nine runners on base in the game, including six in scoring position. They had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth and came up empty, and Michael Cuddyer flew out to right with the tying run on third to end the seventh.

Willie Bloomquist had two RBIs, Alex Gordon hit his third homer and Joakim Soria pitched two innings for his 19th save. The Royals had not beaten an AL team in a series of at least three games since they took two of three in the Metrodome on May 1-3.

"It has been a long time even in calendar days," manager Trey Hillman said. "But because of the lack of success of the team, it seems even longer."

It's been all downhill for this perpetually rebuilding franchise since then, and the Twins were hoping to beat up on the AL's worst team while Detroit visited Boston. The Tigers lost their first three games at Fenway, but the Royals didn't lay down in Minnesota.

Carl Pavano (10-9) gave up five runs on five hits with six strikeouts in seven innings for the Twins, a solid outing that wasn't good enough against Meche and the shaky Royals bullpen.

The Royals' Opening Day starter strained his lower back in an outing against the Red Sox and needed two rehab appearances in the minors before he was activated on Thursday.

"I threw a lot of strikes, which is what I wanted to do back up here," Meche said. "When I was put on the DL I was walking people. It just shows when you walk guys you get in trouble. That's what happened in the fifth inning."

After allowing an RBI double to Mauer in the first, Meche breezed through the next three innings. He had two outs in the fifth when he walked Denard Span and gave up a single to Cabrera. Mauer followed with his 21st homer of the season to pull Minnesota to 5-4.

Hillman sent Robinson Tejeda out to start the sixth inning. He walked Joe Crede on four pitches and then threw two more balls to Mike Redmond.

So after just six pitches, and in the middle of an at-bat, Hillman yanked Tejada and inserted right-hander Jamey Wright, who threw one strike to Redmond before walking him.

But the Twins couldn't take advantage. Nick Punto botched an attempt to move the runners up by bunting a pitch foul for strike three. Wright walked Span to load the bases but got Cabrera to bounce into a double play to end the inning.

"That's what we do best and it's very glaring when we don't do those things," Punto said. "You hate for it to be a let down, but it is when you're used to doing those things right."

Game notes
The Royals put right-hander Doug Waechter on the DL with a strained right shoulder to make room for Meche. ... Punto attended Wednesday's practice round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn. John Daly allowed Punto to tee off for him on No. 18. He hit driver in to the rough on the right side. ... Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards threw out the first pitch to Morneau, the team's resident hockey fanatic.