KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With his pitch count well into triple-digits and the Twins clinging to a one-run lead, even Kyle Gibson thought Paul Molitor was going to bring in a reliever for him.
Then the manager stayed in the dugout with two Royals aboard in the eighth inning.
“I don’t want to say I was surprised,” Gibson said, “but it showed a lot of confidence in me.”
Molitor’s confidence was rewarded when Gibson retired the next two batters to wiggle out of the jam, the Twins tacked on another run, and Glen Perkins breezed through the ninth to finish off a 2-0 victory over AL Central-leading Kansas City on Thursday night.
Gibson (6-6) allowed four hits while throwing 114 pitches.
“You want to get your guys to bulldog through outs late in games,” Molitor said, explaining his decision to leave Gibson in. “It was touch-and-go there.”
Perkins remained perfect in 26 save attempts, and needs two more saves to match bullpen coach Eddie Guardado (116) for third-most in franchise history.
“He’s just on a really good roll,” Molitor said.
The Royals’ Chris Young (7-4) dodged trouble for most of 5 1/3 innings, the only run he allowed coming on a triple by Santana in the fifth. The big, lanky right-hander turned over a 1-0 deficit to the game’s best bullpen, but his offense was unable to bail him out.
It was a good way to start the four-game set for the second-place Twins, who dropped four of their first six on a 10-game road trip.
Kansas City has lost four straight. Two of them were shutouts.
“My thoughts are more on the way Gibson threw the ball than our offensive output. He did a really nice job executing pitches,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I think we had really two run-scoring opportunities, one with the bases loaded and two outs, and in the eighth inning. He just made quality pitches in those spots.”
The fact that the Royals were even in the game was surprising. The Twins collected five extra-base hits — including the run-scoring triples — and had runners advance three times when Young threw a pitch that got away from Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
Then again, all Minnesota needed was a run against the slumping Royals.
Two of Kansas City’s four hits were bunts against the shift, and the hardest-hit ball — a single by Lorenzo Cain in the fourth — led to the most frustrating frame of the night: Kansas City went on to load the bases before Perez struck out looking to end the inning.
Not that it should have been surprising that Gibson shut them down.
The former University of Missouri star came into the game with 4-2 record and 2.68 ERA in six starts against the Royals. Even in a relatively poor start against them in June, when he took the loss at Target Field, Gibson’s sinker still drove the Kansas City hitters to fits.
Just as it did again on Thursday night.
“It was a good night out there,” Gibson said. “I wouldn’t say we needed to come out and make a statement. It’s still July. But anytime you play a team that’s higher than you in the standings, it’s an important game.”
STATS AND STREAKS
The Royals have been shut out seven times this season, twice by Minnesota. … Royals 3B Mike Moustakas snapped an 0-for-14 skid with a bunt single in the first inning.
Miguel Sano, one of baseball’s top prospects, made his big league debut for Minnesota. The power hitter from the Dominican Republic was the designated hitter and beat out an infield single for his first career hit in the ninth inning.
Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco received another opinion on bone chips in his right ankle, but no decision has been made on a course of treatment. … CF Byron Buxton (sprained left thumb) is still dealing with swelling, though Molitor said he is improving.
Royals: 1B Eric Hosmer (sprained right ring finger) was back in the starting lineup. … LHP Jason Vargas (left flexor strain) threw 40 pitches in a simulated game. He’ll throw 60 pitches on Tuesday. “It was very encouraging,” Yost said.
Twins: Molitor officially announced that RHP Ervin Santana will return from his suspension to start the series finale Sunday. LHP Tommy Milone takes the mound Friday night and RHP Mike Pelfrey gets the start Saturday.
Royals: RHP Jeremy Guthrie tries to continue his dominance Friday at Kauffman Stadium, where he is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA over his last four starts.