MINNEAPOLIS -- Nelson Cruz couldn’t believe it.

Cruz had waved at an 0-2 pitch. He thought he had checked his swing. First-base umpire Jordan Baker thought otherwise, ringing him up.

The Twins’ designated hitter was incredulous as the strikeout ended the game with the tying run on base. Leaving runners on base was a theme for the Twins in an 8-6 loss to the Royals in a series finale at Target Field on Sunday.

Minnesota left 15 runners on base, 11 of them in scoring position.

More than once, it looked like the Twins might be able to mount a comeback.

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“The check-swing calls are, honestly, some of the more difficult calls you’re going to see in the game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Obviously, we didn’t like the call, but I find them challenging. It was probably close but something we would prefer to go our way based on everything we saw. But it happens.”

Yes, it does. And there would be less emphasis on one call if the Twins had played a crisp defensive game and had come through with runners in scoring position earlier in the game.

The Twins (47-23) committed two errors, which led to four unearned runs. They had committed three the night before and an uncharacteristic five in a game earlier in the homestand.

“It was not our sharpest effort,” Baldelli said. “If you look at each one of those players, they’re plays we want to make and we have to make going forward, but they’re not the easiest of plays.”

Starter Martin Perez gave up five runs — four earned — in 6 2/3 innings, settling in nicely after a tough second inning to retire 14 consecutive batters in the middle innings. The inning after he left, Mike Morin gave up three unearned runs after missing a catch at first.

Those four unearned runs kept the target moving further and further back for the Twins’ offense.The Twins, who had left the bases loaded twice prior, wound up leaving them loaded once again in the seventh.

In the eighth, Cruz, who homered earlier in the game, ripped a two-run double with the bases loaded, but once Royals manager Ned Yost came out to remove an ineffective Brad Boxberger, Wily Peralta set down the next three Twins in order.

“It’s obviously not the way we draw it up, but we continued to get guys on base, which is the first battle,” Baldelli said. “We weren’t able to bring enough of them in. That happens.”

They did come closer in the ninth, with Max Kepler’s 100th career double driving in a run. But it wasn’t enough.

“We played good. We win. We lose. That’s part of the game. Sometimes we’re going to win. Sometimes, we’re not,” said third baseman, Miguel Sano, who homered in the loss. “But the biggest thing is we’re in first place. We can lose one game if we’re going to win five, seven games.”