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Royals unable to back Bannister

Royals unable to back Bannister

KANSAS CITY -- Maybe you could make a case that the Royals' 2-1 loss to the Twins on Tuesday was a microcosm of the Royals' entire season.

The formula was all there -- a strong start and some solid pitching, but too many defensive miscues and barely a peep from the offense.

All that added up to a loss on a warm night in front of 19,310 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

"We're lacking one big hit," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.

One big hit might have spared starting pitcher Brian Bannister, who allowed just two runs -- one earned -- in seven innings.

Instead, Bannister took the brunt of the Royals' sloppiness, earning a loss despite a sterling performance. He gave up just six hits while striking out six and walking one.

The Royals had chances, but the clutch hits just never came.

They loaded the bases against Minnesota starter Scott Baker with one out in the fourth inning, only to see the threat evaporate as Mitch Maier popped out to second base and Tony Pena Jr. went down swinging.

And trailing, 2-1, in the sixth, they missed another opportunity when, with runners on first and second, pinch-hitter Jose Guillen hit a ball sharply up the middle. For a moment, it looked as though Guillen had tied the game, but Twins shortstop Brendan Harris made a diving stop and flipped the ball to second for the force.

"Banny threw a heck of a game," said Willie Bloomquist, who got the start in right field before moving to center when Guillen came off the bench. "Any time you can keep that lineup to one run or two runs over six, seven innings like he did -- shoot, he did his job. We just gotta put up more runs, bottom line.

The lack of runs also magnified a throwing error by Billy Butler in the sixth inning that set up the Twins' winning run. With Joe Mauer on first base, Justin Morneau hit a hard grounder to Butler, who turned and fired it into left field. Mauer advanced to third and scored later on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Cuddyer.

"I gotta make that play," Butler said.

But that's how it went on Tuesday. Bannister and Baker dueled, and the Royals were unable to supply enough offensive or defensive support to their starter.

The Royals tried their best to knock Baker out of the game early. Baker bent, but he never broke.

The Minnesota right-hander had thrown more than 100 pitches by the fifth inning -- thanks in large part to a lengthy at-bat from Bloomquist in the bottom of the fifth. The battle between Bloomquist and Baker included 15 pitches, 11 foul balls and four pickoff attempts -- the last of which caught David DeJesus at first base.

"Can't happen," Hillman said of DeJesus' mistake.

Baker eventually got Bloomquist to fly out to end the long at-bat, and he exited the game after allowing just one run in five innings.

It was another eventful night for Baker after some strange recent history against the Royals.

Baker had a no-hitter through six innings against Kansas City on May 3, but his bid crashed -- and he eventually took the loss -- as the Royals tagged him for five hits in the seventh.

Baker was even better on Aug. 31, 2007. He took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Royals before John Buck walked and Mike Sweeney spoiled the no-hitter with a bloop single.

This time, Baker left with the victory.

"It's not like they're throwing things that are unhittable up there," Bloomquist said. "It's just a matter of [them] pounding the zone and forcing you to put the bat on the ball."

From the start, Bannister matched Baker pitch for pitch. Bannister sailed through the first three innings, working around a double and a walk in the first and retiring the side in order in the second and third.

Bannister's only mistake came in the top of the fourth inning, as Morneau smashed a 426-foot homer that splashed into the top level of fountains in right and tied the game at 1.

"I pitched him tough, and the pitch he hit out was a great pitch if he was a right-handed hitter," Bannister said. "It was a little in, off the plate and down. There's a reason he's won an MVP award."

Morneau's homer was his second of the series and second of his career off Bannister.

"From a pitcher's perspective, as long as you're giving it up and you gotta sit out there and watch them run around the bases, you might as well give up a beauty," Bannister said. "That definitely was. It made a big splash out there. That was disappointing."

After Morneau's homer, the Twins took the lead two innings later with an assist from Butler, and the Royals were unable to respond.

Too bad, because the night started off with a promising first inning.

The Royals took advantage of a leadoff double from DeJesus to take a 1-0 lead. Mike Jacobs blooped a single in front of Minnesota center fielder Carlos Gomez to score DeJesus with two outs.

But Kansas City then went scoreless for the next eight innings, and the Royals and Bannister left with the loss.

"It adds a little insult to it, no doubt," Hillman said. "You can't not produce in the two major areas that we didn't -- and that's defensively and offensively -- getting the big hit and making routine plays."

Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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