KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The American League wild-card standings tilted heavily in the Minnesota Twins' favor in the ninth inning Thursday.
A Kansas City Royals victory would have moved them within 1 1/2 games of Minnesota for the second wild-card slot entering the second contest of their four-game series Friday. Kansas City had a 2-1 lead entering the ninth, but the Twins rallied for a 4-2 victory.
"It was a pretty big game," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It looked like we had everything lined up to win it, but we just didn't win it."
Two years ago, the Twins were playing meaningful games in September while competing for a wild-card spot. They were chasing other clubs then, but this season, they are the ones being hunted.
"These are games that should be enjoyable," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "These are the games we work for seven months to try to get in position. So go out and have some fun."
He pointed out that a few of the Twins were around in 2015 when they were in the race, and a handful more have playoff experience with other clubs.
"With 22 games to go, if you want to say we're in control because we're ahead right now," Molitor said, "I don't know if that weighs quite as much. It could change tomorrow. We'll see if we're still in control the last weekend; that would be good."
The Twins own a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the wild-card standings. The Angels were idle Thursday. Los Angeles, Baltimore, Texas, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Seattle are all within four games of the Twins.
The Twins will send right-hander Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.35 ERA) to the mound Friday. Santana, a former Royal, is 1-1 with a 4.74 ERA in three starts this season against Kansas City, allowing 12 runs (10 earned) in 19 innings. He is 6-10 with a 4.63 ERA in 24 career appearances against the Royals.
Melky Cabrera is 16-for-44 with two home runs and six RBIs vs. Santana. Eric Hosmer is 10-for-32 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Mike Moustakas is 5-for-31 with a pair of solo home runs.
The Royals will counter with right-hander Ian Kennedy (4-10, 5.37), who is winless in a club-record 17 consecutive home starts. Kennedy has not won at Kauffman Stadium since Aug. 20, 2016, against the Twins.
Kennedy is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in four starts against the Twins this season. He got a no-decision Sunday atMinnesota. He held a 3-2 lead before an error and a Byron Buxton two-run single in the sixth proved costly.
Kennedy has struggled in 10 starts since the All-Star break, going 1-4 with a 7.03 ERA. He is 4-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 11 career starts vs. the Twins.