MINNEAPOLIS -- The Kansas City Royals can see a better future, even if it is a little clouded at the moment by all those defeats.
Mike Sweeney went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBI, helping the Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 10-6 on Thursday night and avoid setting the club record for losses in a season.
Mark Teahen and John Buck hit solo home runs in a five-run sixth inning off rookie Travis Bowyer (0-1), who then gave up two singles before Sweeney crushed the first pitch he saw into the left-center field seats to give Kansas City a 10-6 lead.
"I never really doubted the character of this team," said manager Buddy Bell, who took over in May after Tony Pena was fired. "Inexperience shows, and that's something we've got to live with, but the character has always been there.
"We've got a lot of young guys that need to show progress if we're going to get better, and I think they will."
The Royals (55-104) must sweep a three-game series against the Blue Jays this weekend to keep from becoming the losingest team in franchise history. They went 58-104 last year.
"This late in the year," Sweeney said, "we put the emphasis on not quitting and definitely not packing our bags until that last out in Toronto."
Nick Punto hit a two-run homer, and Luis Rodriguez had a three-run homer for Minnesota (80-79), which needs one more victory during a three-game series against Detroit to ensure a fifth consecutive winning season -- something that has never happened in the club's 45 years.
That's not much consolation for the Twins, whose streak of three straight AL Central titles officially ended earlier in the day when Chicago clinched.
"It's been a long year," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've been through a lot of ups and downs, so hopefully we'll come out and put forth a great effort this weekend."
D.J. Carrasco (6-8), making his first relief appearance this year, pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the victory after starter Mike Wood left trailing 6-5.
"We just want to end on a good note," Carrasco said, "and play some good baseball."
Joe Mays had what was likely his last outing for Minnesota, allowing five runs in five innings. He labored through the first two innings, before settling down and retiring the last 11 men he faced.
But the damage was done to Mays, who gave up five hits and three walks while striking out four. After winning 17 games in 2001 and signing a $20 million, four-year contract, Mays was never the same. He missed the entire 2004 season following reconstructive elbow surgery and went 6-10 in 31 games, 26 starts, with a 5.65 ERA this year. The Twins have an option on his contract for 2006 that won't be picked up.
"He battled his tail off," Gardenhire said. "I tip my hat for him for that."
Mays has won only 18 games since his All-Star season in 2001, but he believes he'll come back stronger next year as most pitchers who have the "Tommy John" surgery do in the second season after the operation. Whether that's with Minnesota remains to be seen.
"If it's in the plans, great," he said. "If not, you've got to cut your ties and move on and start a career somewhere else."
The best news for Kansas City came from the front office -- the signing of third baseman Alex Gordon, the second overall pick in the June draft who helped lead Nebraska to the College World Series.
On the field, where a second consecutive miserable season has taken place, the rebuilding Royals offered an extended look at the three prospects they acquired in last summer's trade of All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran.
Wood, who moved into the rotation in August and made his 10th start, couldn't hold a 5-0 lead and lasted only four innings -- allowing seven hits and six runs. His ERA as a starter jumped to 4.85.
But Buck and Teahen, who have struggled offensively as regulars at catcher and third base, respectively, sparked the rally in the sixth with their solo shots off Bowyer, who is still trying to figure out how to throw an effective breaking ball.
"In this league, you're going to get hammered if you just throw fastballs," Gardenhire said.