KANSAS CITY -- Will Smith can't seem to avoid giving up the home run ball.
Smith surrendered three long balls in a start for the second time this season, and the Royals dropped the first game of their series with the Twins, 10-7, on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The homer troubles began early for Smith. In the first inning, Josh Willingham crushed a two-run home run 388 feet to left to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
Then, with the game tied at 4 in the top of the fifth, Smith issued a one-out walk to Willingham. Justin Morneau followed with a two-run homer just over the wall in right-center field to make the score 6-4. Two batters later, Trevor Plouffe smacked a home run into the Royals' bullpen to extend the lead to 7-4 and chase Smith from the game. The Twins wouldn't trail again.
"The home runs off of Will, five runs off three homers, the quick-strike homers end up hurting us," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The first one to Willingham is a pretty good pitch, just kind of came back toward the middle, was down. On the other two balls, too, just kind of came back to the middle for homers.
"He threw the ball OK at times, but his ball would start on the corner and just drift back to the middle of the plate. They put the good end of the bat on it and drove it into the seats."
Smith exited after 4 2/3 innings of work. He allowed seven runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out three batters. He picked up the loss, falling to 1-2 through his first three Major League starts. His ERA stands at 9.00.
"Scoring early is definitely something you want to do, because it takes some pressure off the pitcher. But the big thing we've been doing has been answering," said Minnesota outfielder Trevor Plouffe. "When a team comes out scoring, we score and take the momentum right back. It kind of deflates them a little bit. They scored three runs, and we came back with three runs, which was huge."
After Willingham's first-inning blast put the Twins up, Minnesota added another run in the top of the second on a Jamey Carroll RBI single. Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to make the score 3-1, and the Twins tacked on their fourth run on Carroll's RBI triple in the fourth.
The Royals did manage to rally against Minnesota starter Cole De Vries -- who would earn his first Major League win -- in the bottom of the fourth inning. Trailing, 4-1, Johnny Giavotella and Billy Butler led off with back-to-back singles. Then Moustakas crushed a double over the head of left fielder Plouffe, driving in his second run of the game and cutting the score to 4-2.
Jeff Francoeur followed by hitting a line drive that bounced in between the legs of shortstop Brian Dozier. Butler came in to score, making it 4-3. Eric Hosmer then hit a slow chopper to second base, but Alexi Casilla couldn't field the grounder, and Moustakas scored to tie the game.
There was still nobody out after the first five batters reached base, but the wind left the Royals' sails after Alcides Escobar laid down a sacrifice bunt. The runners moved to second and third, but Jarrod Dyson and Humberto Quintero followed with strikeouts and the Royals couldn't keep the momentum rolling. The Twins clubbed two homers in the next inning, taking the lead for good.
"At that time, we were tied and was counting on one of the two guys -- either Dyson putting the ball in play to give us the lead with the infield playing back, or Quintero getting a big two-out hit. Neither one of those things happened," Yost said. "It was the right play. It was the right play at that time. We had battled back, tied the score. I was trying to get us ahead at that point, the fourth inning going into the fifth. I felt like if we could take the lead into the fifth inning, we could be in pretty good shape.
"My decision was to bunt there. It put us in a perfect position to take the lead or maybe even a two-run lead in that spot. We didn't get the job done."
Smith took the blame for not holding the Twins after the Royals' rally ended abruptly.
"When your offense gives you runs, you're supposed to go out there and put up a zero to help keep the momentum going. I just didn't do that, I gave it right back to them," Smith said.
The Twins scored again in the top of the sixth, when Ben Revere singled home Carroll to extend the lead to 8-4. The Royals picked up a run in the bottom of the sixth on a Hosmer sacrifice fly. Minnesota tacked on its final runs in the top of the eighth on RBI singles by Revere and Willingham.
Kansas City forged a small offensive uprising in the bottom of the ninth, scoring first on a sacrifice fly by Brayan Pena. Dyson later scampered home from third for the Royals' seventh run on a past ball, but that would be all for the home team.
The bright spot for the Royals was Moustakas' performance. He went 3-for-4 with a home run, two doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs.
"I just got into good counts where I was able to look for a good pitch and put some good wood on it," Moustakas said. "It wasn't anything too crazy. I wasn't guessing pitches or anything, just tried to work all the way into a good count and make him come to me."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.