MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Jeff Francis recovered from a rough start and was rolling along until the eighth inning.
The hard-luck left-hander wound up with another loss.
Michael Cuddyer singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth off Aaron Crow and Joe Nathan did his job as Minnesota's new closer Saturday night, giving the Twins a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Francis (3-11) dropped his fifth straight decision, giving up four runs on seven hits and a walk. He retired 11 batters in a row until losing concentration and leaving a changeup over the plate to Alexi Casilla, who smacked it for a single to right field in the eighth. Then Joe Mauer followed with another single, and Crow came in to face Cuddyer.
``I pitched well, but just not well enough. That's on me,' Francis said. ``I take a lot of responsibility for what I do on the mound, and I think I expect more out of myself than anybody else does. I feel like I can get out of that inning, but I'll give the ball to Aaron any day. I know the way that guy can throw. I'm not disappointed with him at all, only with my performance.'
Crow hung a slider that Cuddyer hit to snap a 3-all tie. The right-hander, whose ERA is 2.00, was disappointed to leave Francis hanging and watch the Twins top the Royals for the sixth time in their last seven meetings.
``He's pitched really well so far this year. It's too bad for him,' Crow said. ``He's keeping us in the game, and we're not able to win the game. He's doing his job. Everybody else has got to do better and pick him up.'
Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save since Minnesota's home opener on April 8. Earlier in the day, the Twins put the four-time All-Star back into his familiar role as closer, replacing the struggling Matt Capps.
Glen Perkins (1-1) pitched a perfect eighth for the victory.
Drew Butera added a solo home run in the fourth for the Twins to give them a 3-0 lead.
Starter Carl Pavano pitched seven innings for Minnesota, allowing three runs and six hits. He cruised through the first four frames, allowing just two hits, but the Royals broke through with Alcides Escobar's two-out homer in the fifth. They added a run in the sixth when Melky Cabrera singled, stole second and scored on a groundout by Eric Hosmer.
Francis was in trouble early. Mauer had an RBI grounder, Cuddyer singled and Delmon Young doubled for a 2-0 lead in the first.
But he settled in and was in line for a win - if the Royals could've given him just a little more help.
``That's just the mirror image of his season right there: pitched great, got nothing to show for it,' Royals manager Ned Yost said, adding: ``We play the game hard. We play the game right. But we miss that one big hit, that one big pitch.'
Yost said he hoped Francis could retire the Twins in order in the eighth, but he wasn't going to face Cuddyer, Minnesota's lone All-Star. Francis said he felt fresh when he started the fateful inning.
``It's a hot night, but that's our job. It's what we train for,' Francis said. ``We feel like we can go as long as we can until they take the ball away.'
Said Yost: ``He's a real levelheaded guy. He's been through the gamut in this game. He's got a lot of confidence in himself. He understands reality, that he is throwing the ball really, really well, and that's just the breaks. ... Our bullpen doesn't give up many runs, but it seems like when they do, most of the time they're his.'
NOTES: Starting with this four-game series against the Twins, the Royals will play 28 of their first 41 games after the All-Star break on the road. ... The Royals have lost 14 of their last 18 games against division opponents. ... Francis passed the 1,000 career innings mark. ... The Royals lead the majors in stolen bases with 97 after swiping two more Saturday. ... Royals C Bryan Pena said he promised the lean Escobar to buy him a steak when he hit his next home run. ``But not today. Today was a tough loss,' Pena said.
The Associated Press News Service
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