MINNEAPOLIS - Royals leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield took another step toward solidifying his reputation as arguably the best table-setter in the majors Sunday afternoon.
His sixth-inning single over the shortstop and into left field made him the seventh player in franchise history with 200 hits in a season. It's the eighth time the mark has been reached by a Royal (George Brett did it twice). The last Royal with 200 hits was Melky Cabrera in 2011.
"It's unbelievable. It blows my mind, a 200-hit season with five games to go," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Last year I thought it was unbelievable with 192. And now he's at 200."
In a season with ups, downs and growing pains, Merrifield has been a consistent and calming presence. The Royals needed that as they fell behind early and eventually dropped the game and final road series of the season to the Minnesota Twins 12-8 in front of an announced 31,628 at Target Field.
"He's just a model of consistency more than anything else," Yost said. "I don't know even know how to explain it -- he just hits, hits, hits, hits."
The loss gave the Royals (57-100) back-to-back 100-loss seasons.
One inning into the game, the sky was already falling. The Royals' young star shortstop Adalberto Mondesi went down with his second left shoulder injury of the season -- the first kept him out for a month and a half -- and pitcher Jorge Lopez's feel-good finish to the season turned into a six-run first inning for the Twins (96-60).
Merrifield served as the offensive catalyst as the Royals rallied but came up short. He logged his 12th three-hit game of the season to reach the 200-hit plateau in a season for the first time in his career.
"I try not to get too caught up in results with my game, but it's been hard to not to get caught up in results the last month or so, just trying to get hits," Merrifield said. "To get to 200 hits, it's a huge accomplishment, a huge goal I've had. It's a blessing to have stayed healthy long enough to do it. That's a huge part of it, the durability."
Merrifield continues his bid to become the first player to lead the majors in hits in consecutive seasons since Ichiro Suzuki did so from 2006-10.
Merrifield can also become the first right-handed hitter to lead the majors in hits in back-to-back seasons since Kirby Puckett in 1988-89, according to Sportradar.
Merrifield has maintained that 200 hits was his primary goal because he can't control what other hitters do, but he can control his own at-bats.
"I could set a goal to hit 40 homers, but realistically I'm probably not going to do that. I'm a hit guy," Merrifield said. "I don't walk a lot. I don't care to walk really. I want to go out, step up and hit. So having that mindset, having that mentality and having that be a part of my game, I felt like 200 hits was a good goal for me to try to go get. I'm just happy that I could accomplish that goal."
The Twins' six-run explosion included a three-run home run by Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, who crushed his second home run of the day off Lopez in the third inning.
The Royals trailed 6-0 and lost their shortstop before the second turn at-bat. Then they responded with a Nick Dini two-run homer in the second inning and a three-run third inning to pull back within a run.
Jorge Soler (double), Ryan McBroom (ground out) and Cheslor Cuthbert (single) each drove in runs in the third as the Royals made it a one-run game, 6-5.
Soler also became the fourth player in club history with at least 90 runs, 30 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Jermaine Dye was the most recent player to reach those marks, in 2000.
Lopez (4-9) made it through just 2 1/3 innings in his 17th start of the season. He gave up seven runs on eight hits (two homers).
The teams went back and forth, with the Twins scoring in the bottom of the bottom of the third, the Royals in the top of the fourth and the Twins in the bottom of the fourth.
The Royals' bullpen had posted a 2.70 ERA with a .163 opponent's batting average and 25 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings on the road trip, but relievers Gabe Speier, Tim Hill and Heath Fillmyer each gave up runs as the Twins built their lead back up to as many as six runs.
The Twins led 12-6 going into the ninth, and the Royals got two runs on back-to-back bases-loaded walks by Cuthbert and Ryan O'Hearn with two outs.
The Royals start a two-game interleague series against the Atlanta Braves tonight at Kauffman Stadium. Left-hander Danny Duffy (6-6, 4.30) is scheduled to start the series opener for the Royals opposite Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (10-10, 3.55).