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MIN@KC: Smith enters in seventh, mows down the side

KANSAS CITY -- Maybe you'd never heard of Andrew Albers and the Royals sure wish they hadn't.

Albers, a Canadian left-hander making his Major League debut at 27, cooled off one of baseball's hottest teams and pitched the Minnesota Twins over Kansas City, 7-0, on Tuesday night with 18,924 fans expecting more from a Royals team that had won 12 of its previous 13 games.

Meanwhile the relentless first-place Detroit Tigers roared on, winning their 10th straight game at Cleveland. Frustratingly, the Royals, who were eight games behind in the American League Central standings at the All-Star break, are now 8 1/2 games back despite a 14-4 record since then. The good news, however, is that they've gone from 9 1/2 games out of the Wild Card race to just five games.

Albers provided a nice reprieve for a Twins pitching staff that had been battered for 13 runs on Monday in the series opener at Kauffman Stadium. In 8 1/3 innings, he gave up just four singles and one walk before being relieved.

"It was special -- no question," Albers said. "It's hard to put into words, but it was special. To be able to go out and have that kind of performance in your debut, unfortunately it's not going to get much better from there. So I'm just going to enjoy this high and really enjoy tonight."

Albers, from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, by way of the University of Kentucky, was a 10th-round choice by San Diego in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He's since had Tommy John surgery, been released and played independent ball. This year he went 11-5 for Triple-A Rochester.

"For me, personally, it's the toughest thing as a hitter. I hate facing guys for the first time to be honest with you," said designated hitter Billy Butler, who was 0-for-3 against Albers. "After that, I at least have a scouting report on him. I at least know what he's got. We've got Minor League video on the guy, but it really doesn't show much."

Albers displayed a modest fastball that he kept down, mixed with a slider and a few changeups.

"His fastball is like 86 to 88 but he puts it right on the black, right on the corner and did a really good job tonight," said Alcides Escobar, who had two of the Royals' hits.

Eric Hosmer singled in the first inning and he was wiped out in a double play. The Royals didn't get another baserunner until Escobar singled with two outs in the sixth. Hosmer also singled in the seventh and Escobar got his second hit to start the ninth.

After Escobar was forced out, Albers issued his only walk to Hosmer and was relieved after 109 pitches. Casey Fien finished up for him.

"He was totally out of gas at the end and I didn't want to see him walking off at the end after giving up a hit or something crazy," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "But wow, that was fun to watch. To do that in your first big league performance against a team that's red hot like that was pretty special for us. We needed it desperately."

The Twins battered Royals starter James Shields right from the get-go. Any hope he had of emulating teammate Jeremy Guthrie's shutout on Monday night evaporated with the first batter of the game.

Twins leadoff man Brian Dozier hammered a 3-2 pitch into the left-field bullpen. Then Shields walked Jamey Carroll and, after an out, Justin Morneau belted a two-run homer to right field and, just like that, it was 3-0.

Old stuff, really, for Morneau. He's hit .368 against Shields in his career and this was his fourth homer off him in 36 at-bats. Oh, and with 10 RBIs.

"When you go 3-2 on the first hitter, he hit a home run, then give up three runs in the first inning, that's a terrible job by me. I didn't get off on the right foot today," Shields said. "Sometimes that's going to happen, but I've got to do a better job to finish the game off there."

The third home run off Shields came as the fourth inning got underway -- a 407-foot shot to right-center by Chris Colabello.

Shields soldiered on through the sixth inning when the Twins added two runs -- he balked in one run and Dozier got his third RBI with a single. His final totals were seven runs on eight hits, two walks, a hit batter, a balk and 110 pitches.

Royals manager Ned Yost explained why he stuck with Shields through the sixth.

"We were trying to get through this game -- unless we got back into it -- with just him and Will Smith," Yost said. "These guys are built to go 115 pitches, plus he competes even when he doesn't have his best stuff. ... He didn't get in jams today, the home-run ball killed him."

Smith pitched three perfect innings with five strikeouts in his first appearance since being recalled on Sunday.

"It is nice to have three clean innings," Smith said. "Ever since I was sent to the 'pen, it's not that I wasn't attacking guys in the starting role, but out of the 'pen it's: 'We need this guy out now.' So that kind of changed my mentality. I'm more aggressive going after guys now which I'll keep doing whether I start or stay in the 'pen."

Smith's reward likely will be a return trip to Triple-A Omaha because the Royals need to clear a roster spot for Danny Duffy, who'll be starting against the Twins on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the Royals will be trying to forget what a tough time they had against little-known Andrew Albers. Who knew the guy from Saskatchewan would be so tough?

"Unbelievable really," a happy Albers said.

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