KANSAS CITY, Mo.(AP) — It is customary in baseball for a pitcher to be awarded a commemorative baseball after his first big league win, a nice keepsake to reflect upon years down the road.
The Twins’ Phil Hughes did not earn his first win on Sunday. It only felt like it.
His jokester teammates gave him a ball anyway.
Hughes pitched into the seventh inning to win for the first time since last July, helping Minnesota to an 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals that also avoided a three-game sweep.
It was Hughes’ first win in 18 outings, a span that included eight losses.
“I knew it had been a long time,” said Hughes, who signed a $24 million, three-year deal with Minnesota in December. “It’s good to get that one out of the way, and hopefully go on a good run here and continue to pitch some quality games. But my first one with a new team, it’s special.”
He could have done without the ball, though.
“We had a little fun with him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s his first win since way back, and first win as a Twin, too, so we gave him a little grief about that.”
Josmil Pinto homered and Trevor Plouffe and Kurt Suzuki each drove in a pair of runs for the Twins, who battered Yordano Ventura (1-1) before piling on against the Royals’ bullpen.
Alcides Escobar hit a two-run homer and Omar Infante also drove in a run for the Royals, whose five-game winning streak came to an end.
“If you don’t score runs it doesn’t matter how many hits you get. We got a loss here today,” said the Royals’ Alex Gordon. “We’ll move on from here.”
Hughes’ solid showing came after he had allowed 12 earned runs in his first 15 innings with Minnesota. The former All-Star had not survived past the sixth since July 13, when he was still a member of the New York Yankees and was facing his current team.
It helped that the Twins staked him to an early lead.
After they went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position in a 5-4 loss Saturday, Plouffe came through with a double in the Twins’ first opportunity Sunday. His drive into the gap in right was enough to score Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer and give Minnesota a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Twins added on in the fourth. After Suzuki walked, the Royals were unable to turn a double play on a grounder by Aaron Hicks. Ventura then threw the ball away trying to pick him off first, and a wild pitch put Hicks on third base. Eduardo Escobar’s single scored the run.
Ventura was finally pulled from the game in the fifth, when the 22-year-old right-hander gave up a leadoff triple to Plouffe and a single to Chris Colabello. He allowed four runs on six hits and four walks in four-plus innings, a line that looks even uglier after two dominant outings in which he allowed a combined one run on six hits against Tampa Bay and Houston.
“I tried to correct, to make adjustments,” Ventura said through Bruce Chen, his translator. “It’s not every day that I can make the pitches, but I wanted to go deep and help the team.”
The Royals bullpen, which had thrown 14 straight scoreless innings, never gave their offense a chance to get Ventura off the hook. Pinto’s homer came off Louis Coleman later in the fifth, and Justin Marks — making his big league debut — allowed three more runs in the seventh.
Escobar’s two-run shot later in the seventh knocked Hughes from the game, but relievers Brian Duensing, Casey Fien and Glen Perkins made sure his long losing streak would finally end.
“It’s good, a good feeling,” Hughes said. “Someone brought up last July or something since my last win. Definitely nice to get that one and hopefully get on a little bit of a run.”