MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins lost four key relievers to free agency from last year's division champions, guys that got almost $40 million in guaranteed money between them in contracts with their new teams.
So far, those fan fears have been allayed. The remade bullpen is all right.
After a 12-up, 12-down performance by the 'pen, Danny Valencia hit a bases-loaded single with one out in the 10th inning to lift the Twins to a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.
Dusty Hughes (1-0) pitched a perfect 10th for the victory and watched former teammate Robinson Tejeda (0-1) fail the Royals.
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"That's baseball," Tejeda said. "I just try to come in and do my job. Sometimes you miss a spot, and they're going to make you pay for it."
He gave up a one-out single to Delmon Young and walked Michael Cuddyer. Then came Jason Kubel, who crushed a pitch to right-center where Jeff Francoeur nearly made a nifty running catch with his glove outstretched and his body bent awkwardly at the wall. Francoeur dropped it, though, sticking Kubel with a really long single and a disbelieving look to load the bases for Valencia.
"I don't care how far you have to go. Once it's in my glove, it's in my glove. That's what was frustrating for me," Francoeur said.
Brian Duensing was the biggest beneficiary of the big boost from the Minnesota bullpen. The left-hander was in a groove after a two-run fourth by the Royals, until his defense -- literally his own -- let him down.
Alcides Escobar reached on an infield single when Valencia's on-the-run off-balance throw needed to be perfect for the out, but it was wide left.
Then Duensing picked up Chris Getz's sacrifice bunt back to the mound and tossed it two feet over the head of Hughes with the second baseman covering the bag, an egregious error that put two runners in scoring position and set up Melky Cabrera's sharp tying single that glanced off Duensing's right shin.
Duensing shook off the pain, but that was his last batter. Jose Mijares struck out Alex Gordon, and Matt Capps got Butler to pop out to second and retired Francoeur on a called strike three on the inside corner. Francoeur disagreed with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, and Duensing clapped his hands and cheered for Capps with a clenched jaw from the dugout.
"I was really upset with myself because of the air-mail," Duensing said, adding: "I put the team in a situation that could've cost us the ballgame and for Mijares and Capps to come in and shut the door like they did, it does nothing but fire you up. They came in and covered me a little bit. I guess that's what they're supposed to do."
Capps pitched a perfect eighth inning, and Joe Nathan worked a perfect ninth. Former Royals right-hander Hughes went 1-2-3 in the 10th, including a diving catch of Gordon's leadoff line drive.
"The sky's the limit. You look at the back end of it: We've got two closers. Not many teams can say that," Hughes said.
Said Capps: "Then again we're talking about a small sample size. There's a lot of season left to be played. It was a nice win today, and hopefully this is what we're all about."
The Twins led the majors in first-inning runs last season, but they haven't scored yet in the first or the second in 2011. They came in with the second-worst team batting average in the league, too, including an AL-worst 24 runs and just three homers in nine games. The Royals, whose entire payroll is merely $13 million more than Joe Mauer's salary this season, rolled in with the second-best batting average.
Cuddyer lifted his batting average 112 points with singles in each of his first four at-bats, and he scored on a two-run single by Luke Hughes in the fourth that put the Twins up 3-2.
Mauer avoided the dreaded 4-6-3 double play with a well-hit sacrifice fly with runners at the corners and one out, but the Twins again were missing the clutch, extra-base hits the well-paid veterans in their lineup are being counted on to produce.
With runners at the corners and two outs in the ninth, following a leadoff walk by Valencia, Mauer flied out to center to end the inning. But then Valencia, the second-year third baseman, came through in the 10th.
The Twins are 38-17 against the Royals since the start of 2008. ... The announced crowd was 38,154, short of the official capacity of 39,500 and ending Target Field's sellout streak at 81 straight games. ... Royals starter Jeff Francis was stuck with his third straight no-decision. Francis has given up just six runs in his first 20 2-3 innings for the Royals, and he got 12 outs over his last 13 batters.