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Mike McFeely column: Rogers' gritty effort leads Twins

Minneapolis - The large crowd inside the Metrodome showed its displeasure in the form of boos when Kenny Rogers walked Kansas City's Desi Relaford with one out in the fourth inning and runners on second and third. The Royals had already scored on...

Minneapolis - The large crowd inside the Metrodome showed its displeasure in the form of boos when Kenny Rogers walked Kansas City's Desi Relaford with one out in the fourth inning and runners on second and third. The Royals had already scored one run in the inning to take a 3-0 lead and here was Rogers, loading the bases by walking the No. 8 hitter.

"I wanted to walk Relaford to set something up," Rogers said later. "I wasn't going to give him anything to hit. The fans weren't happy with it, but sometimes you have to take a chance and try to make something happen."

That something, Rogers hoped, would be a double play that would get the Twins out of the inning.

Which is exactly what happened -- sort of.

The next hitter, Brent Mayne, grounded sharply to Twins first baseman Matthew LeCroy, who threw home to force out Raul Ibanez. But A.J. Pierzynski's return throw to LeCroy hit Mayne in the back and skipped past the first baseman.

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Disaster for the Twins? Hardly. Second baseman Luis Rivas was backing up the play, so he picked up the errant ball and spotted the Royals' Ken Harvey trying to score from second. Rivas' throw to Pierzynski nailed Harvey easily.

Double play. Inning over. The Royals came away with only one run. The Twins were still in the game.

"I wanted to get a double play, that was the plan, I just didn't think it was going to come like that," Rogers said. "When you can minimize the damage in an inning, it gives you a chance. That play minimized the damage at the time and gave us a chance to come back and win the ballgame."

Which pretty well sums up Rogers' performance in this contest. Shannon Stewart's three-run homer in the sixth and game-winning RBI single in the seventh will dominate the highlights of Minnesota's 4-3 victory Thursday over the Royals, but it was Rogers' scrappy outing that allowed Stewart to be the hero.

The statistics show seven innings, nine hits and three runs -- which are impressive enough -- but they don't show that Rogers pitched out of trouble in nearly every inning. While Kansas City starter Paul Abbott cruised through the first five innings with a no-hitter -- which contributed to the crowd's edginess -- Rogers was getting by with experience and guile.

"Kenny made things entertaining. He battled," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That was a hard seven innings for Kenny. He had to work his tail off."

In Rogers' previous outing, a week ago at Kansas City, he threw 131 pitches over eight innings in the August broiler known as Kauffman Stadium. He earned the victory in a 9-2 Twins' win, but at 38 Rogers' body can't quite take as much punishment as it once did.

"I knew today was going to be tough for me to have good stuff. I didn't figure I was going to go out tonight and pitch seven or eight innings and give up one run," Rogers said. "I knew I was going to give up some runs because I knew my stuff wasn't going to be great. I just wanted to go out there and battle and give us as many innings as possible."

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The key was that Rogers never gave up the one big inning that could have buried the Twins. There were single runs in the first, third and fourth innings. But no crooked numbers, as they say in baseball.

"He doesn't panic," Gardenhire said. "He comes in to the dugout saying I wasn't going to give that guy anything to hit here, or I don't care if I load the bases there. That's exactly what I expected when we got him."

The Twins signed Rogers to a one-year, $2 million contract in the spring after it was determined Eric Milton would miss most of the season because of knee surgery. It has turned out to be the team's most important acquisition. Rogers leads the Twins with 11 victories, including his last three starts.

While the Twins' rotation was a disappointment most of the season, Rogers has done all the team could have asked. With ace Brad Radke failing to hold up his end of the deal, Rogers is a veteran exactly where the Twins need one.

"I'm not a guy that can go out there and strike out 10 guys in a game, but I can go out there and get ground balls and make pitches," Roger said. "I try not to get out of my comfort zone when I get in trouble, and I can get myself in trouble sometimes, but I still know how to pitch."

That includes the walk to Relaford in the fourth inning, even if the fans didn't quite appreciate it at the time.

Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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