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Perez continues mastery of Twins

Perez continues mastery of Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- A bullpen that had struggled through the first 20 games of the season showed some grit down the stretch in the Royals' 4-3 victory over the Twins at the Metrodome on Wednesday night.

After a solid outing by starting pitcher Odalis Perez, Royals relievers pitched three shutout innings to give Kansas City its third win in four tries against the Twins.

Royals manager Buddy Bell said the performance by the bullpen was a big lift to the team.

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"We've been struggling with our bullpen, but they did pretty good tonight," Bell said.

For the second time in a week, Perez beat the defending American League Central champions. Perez said the key to pitching well against the Twins is getting out the Nos. 3-5 hitters -- Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau.

"If you can get Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer out it's easy for any pitcher to go deep in a game," Perez said.

The Twins' three-headed monster was a combined 0-for-10 Wednesday.

The Royals jumped out to an early lead when designated hitter Mike Sweeney launched a two-run homer to left field in the first inning. It was his second homer of the season -- both coming off Twins starter Sidney Ponson. Sweeney's blast drove in David DeJesus, who had singled off Ponson to start the game.

"It was great," Perez said about the early lead. "When you can have some runs on the scoreboard, it's easier to compete."

The lead was cut in half when Twins center fielder Torii Hunter homered to left field in the bottom of the second inning.

After shortstop Tony Pena Jr. singled to lead off the fifth inning, DeJesus deposited a Ponson pitch over the right-field wall to give the Royals a 4-1 lead. It was DeJesus' fourth homer of the season, and his third consecutive hit off Ponson. The Twins starter lasted six innings, giving up four runs on seven hits.

The Twins loaded the bases on Perez with no outs in the sixth inning, but they only managed one run after Cuddyer hit into a double play and Morneau grounded out to second.

With no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Hunter doubled off the right-field baggy. That was all for Perez. Bell went to reliever Brandon Duckworth, who managed to get the next two batters to ground out. But that allowed Hunter to score and cut the Royals' lead to 4-3.

Perez was efficient in his six innings, throwing just 79 pitches. He gave up three earned runs, five hits, walked two and struck out two.

In the eighth, the Royals went to reliever David Riske, who allowed the first batter he faced to reach. Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla used his speed to get an infield hit. Nick Punto then bunted Casilla over to second. With AL batting champion Mauer due up next, Bell summoned lefty Jimmy Gobble out of the bullpen. The only left-hander in the Kansas City bullpen ran a full count to Mauer, before walking the All-Star catcher.

Enter right-hander Joakim Soria to face Twins' cleanup hitter Cuddyer. Soria managed to get Cuddyer swinging. Then, the Royals received the best gift a struggling bullpen could get. With Casilla stretching his lead off second base, Soria whirled and threw to second to pick off Casilla to derail the Twins' rally.

Sweeney hopes that the effort of the Kansas City bullpen Wednesday night is a sign of things to come.

"It's a big win for us," Sweeney said. "We've been playing decent, but have been unable to close things."

Joe Kieser is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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