The Minnesota Twins fell flat again, forcing themselves into another white-knuckle night of keeping tabs on the Chicago White Sox as the AL Central race that nobody has taken charge of crawls to a finish.
Hmmm. Perhaps the Kansas City Royals could petition to represent the division in the playoffs.
Ryan Shealy blooped a two-run single over a drawn-in infield for the lead in the seventh inning, and the surging Royals handed the suddenly sputtering Twins a second straight defeat, 4-2 on Saturday.
"All the things that go for us went against us, the bloops and the choppers and the off-the-gloves," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They did to us what we do to a lot of other people."
The Twins led the White Sox by a half-game when play began, but thanks to a bunch of missed chances by the batters and a letdown by the bullpen they failed to follow through on another opportunity to control their fate. Instead, they became big Indians fans again while Chicago hosted Cleveland later Saturday.
Nobody was very eager to watch that game, though. The TVs were turned off in the clubhouse. Gardenhire had no interest. Denard Span planned to catch some college football. Justin Morneau was noncommittal.
The possibility of a one-game tiebreaker to determine the division champion increased.
"If we end up having to go to Chicago on Tuesday, we end up having to go," said Morneau, who grounded into one of Minnesota's four double plays. "Right now, the first thing we've got to do is win that ballgame tomorrow. Then we'll see what happens."
Down the hall, the Royals were in a much better mood. They've won 13 of their last 15 games, including eight straight on the road. Their 18 victories in September are the most in the season's final month since the 1985 World Series champions, and the current winning streak away from home is their longest since 1975.
"They're not in the pennant race, but they're definitely playing hard like they are," Span said.
Gil Meche (14-11) pitched into the seventh, getting two innings to end on double plays. The Twins left 11 runners on base and grounded into two more against Royals relievers.
In the eighth, Carlos Gomez's drive to left-center with two outs and two on hung in the air a little too long and Mark Teahen caught it to end the inning.
Joakim Soria pitched the ninth, walking Span and Alexi Casilla. But Joe Mauer bounced into -- what else? -- a double play. With a runner at third, Morneau flied out to Teahen to end the game and give Soria his 42nd save.
"It was a good win. We kept scrapping away," Meche said. "It's been a fun September."
In the second season of his $55 million, five-year contract, Meche has thrived in the second half -- going 11-3 with a 3.09 ERA over 134 innings and 21 starts since June 10. He had runners on in each inning except the sixth, but escaped and struck out seven with only two runs allowed -- one of them earned.
The seventh inning was the most egregious waste of opportunity for Minnesota, when Gomez reached on a throwing error by third baseman Alex Gordon and Span followed with a walk.
Casilla, who hit the winning single in the 10th inning of Thursday's 7-6 comeback win over the White Sox, popped up his bunt attempt for the first out after John Bale relieved Meche. Mauer walked to load the bases, but Morneau -- 3-for-20 on the homestand -- hit a bouncer to shortstop on the first pitch -- a fastball -- for a routine double play. The Twins left eight runners on against Meche.
Morneau just shrugged afterward, saying he got the pitch he wanted.
"Hopefully, I'll get that chance again," he said.
Gardenhire defended his slugger and MVP candidate.
"He's battling. No one wants to do it more than that guy," the skipper said. "He's been there all year for us. ... Mornie will be right there for us. We need to pick him up."
It wasn't only the offense's fault.
The bullpen, after throwing 10 1/3 scoreless innings during one-run wins over the White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday, reverted to its unreliable ways. Boof Bonser gave up four singles before an out was recorded in the sixth, though Teahen's tying hit was a fluke -- off the pitcher's glove and slowly rolling past Casilla when the second baseman had vacated his spot to cover the bag.
After leaving the bases loaded by getting the last two outs of the sixth, Matt Guerrier (6-9) gave up consecutive singles to start the seventh and Shealy's bloop over a diving Morneau's head down the first-base line drove in two to make it 4-2 Royals.
The infield was in on that play. At normal depth, it was a routine catch.
This weekend, nothing has been routine for the Twins. The Royals have something to do with that, though.
"Everybody feels pretty good with the way we're finishing, and I think everybody is realizing we're really not that far," Meche said.