Minneapolis Bruce Chen began to hear rumors the night before: The sputtering Boston Red Sox were interested in pulling off a rare last-day-of-the-season trade so the veteran could pitch for them in a potential playoff game.
Chen wound up staying put and finished strong with eight shutout innings for the Kansas City Royals in a 1-0 loss to Carl Pavano and the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday. As he reflected on a strange day and the end of another year, he acknowledged he would’ve welcomed the sudden change of teams.
“I actually — I’m going to be honest — wanted it to happen,” Chen said. “You want to be the guy who goes out there and helps a team win.”
The Red Sox were fighting with the Rays for the AL wild-card spot, but they capped their September collapse with a loss at Baltimore and Tampa Bay came back to beat the Yankees. But Chen didn’t want to leave just to ditch the Royals, who finished 71-91, a slight improvement from last season.
“I think this team is going to be fighting for the playoffs next year, and I wanted to get some exposure and how to handle how it feels to be in a pressure situation,” said Chen, who is eligible for free agency.
Chen gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked two, capping a solid season for the crafty lefty. He went 12-9 with a 3.77 ERA and twice pitched eight shutout innings against the Twins this month.
About six hours before this game, Chen said he believed the deal was going down. He prepared for the Twins but braced for the possibility of facing the Rays in Tampa Bay on Thursday in a playoff. It wasn’t until he arrived at the ballpark about three hours prior to first pitch that he was told the trade wasn’t going through.
“It would have been definitely fun to see if I could do it,” Chen said, adding: “You play this game to challenge yourself and see how good you are. I feel good, my arm feels good and I wanted the ball. I wanted to see if I could help a team go to the playoffs. I’m very excited that the Boston Red Sox thought of me for the most important game of the season.”
Trevor Plouffe’s RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning gave the Twins the victory, staving off a 100-loss season.
Pavano (9-13) went the distance for the win, the first time he pitched nine scoreless innings since July 22, 2010. He gave up five hits and struck out three to help the Twins finish with two straight wins, their first consecutive victories since Aug. 31 and Sept. 2.
The Royals turned to Blake Wood (5-3) for the ninth. Pinch-hitter Denard Span hit a one-out double, took third on a groundout and trotted home on Plouffe’s sharp single to left.
Plouffe raced around first base with his teammates chasing him from the dugout for a celebratory pileup, completing a season that was anything but fun. The Twins (63-99) still finished with the second-worst record in their 51 years in Minnesota.
The Twins were 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position until Plouffe’s winner.
Kansas City threatened in the eighth. Mike Moustakas led off with a high fly down the line that right fielder Michael Cuddyer let bounce off the wall, then skip by him. The Royals were cajoling Moustakas from the dugout to try for an inside-the-park homer, but he heeded third base coach Eddie Rodriguez’s stop sign and settled for a triple.
But Lorenzo Cain and Mitch Maier were each retired on comebackers to the mound — Cain’s a hot shot and Maier’s a slow roller — and Alcides Escobar grounded out to end the inning.
The Royals’ cadre of rising stars gives them plenty of eagerness for 2012.
First baseman Eric Hosmer made himself a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year with a .293 batting average, 19 home runs and 78 RBIs, and center fielder Melky Cabrera had an exceptional season.
“We made progress. We had our young guys up here. They got great experience. We took a step forward as an organization, and I think that’s important,” manager Ned Yost said, adding: “We’re coming to spring training next year in as good of shape as we’ve been in a long time.”