MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Joe Nathan entered in a save situation Saturday night and received a rousing ovation from the hometown crowd.
Quite a departure from a day ago, when Matt Capps was booed off the Target Field mound after another blown save.
Nathan couldn't contain a smile after returning to the role he wanted. The Minnesota fans certainly embraced the Twins' new, old closer as he preserved a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.
"Especially running in, it got a little louder than normal," Nathan said of moving into the closer's spot after pitching in a setup role recently. "Usually it's like advertisements going on in the eighth inning. So, yeah, you've got to calm down a little bit more."
Michael Cuddyer singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning before Nathan did his job as the closer.
Cuddyer, Minnesota's lone All-Star representative, singled off Aaron Crow to drive in Alexi Casilla.
Nathan finished for his fourth save in seven chances. Earlier in the day, the Twins put the former All-Star back into his familiar role, replacing the struggling Capps. Nathan earned his first save since the Twins' home opener.
"For me, I try to treat it all the same," Nathan said. "Obviously the stuff going on outside the field is the stuff that's different, with the music playing, the crowd gets a little louder in the ninth, everything seems a little bigger in that inning. For myself and my own mental preparation, everything is the same."
Drew Butera added a solo home run for Minnesota. Glen Perkins (1-1) pitched a perfect eighth for the victory.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire left the stadium during the game with an illness - he's been dealing with a viral infection. Bench coach Scott Ullger finished the game as the acting manager.
Jeff Francis (3-11) lost his fifth straight decision, giving up four runs on seven hits and a walk.
Francis got one out in the eighth before back-to-back singles by Casilla and Joe Mauer chased him. Crow entered, and Cuddyer met him with a single that broke a tie at 3-all.
"I take a lot of responsibility for what I do on the mound, and I think I expect more out of myself than anybody else does," Francis said. "I feel like I can get out of that inning, but I'll give the ball to Aaron any day. I know the way that guy can throw. I'm not disappointed with him at all, only with my performance."
Still stuck six games under .500, the Twins are opening the second half with 12 straight home games, all against AL Central opponents. Minnesota used a 24-11 surge going into the All-Star break to cut their 10-game deficit.
The Twins now trail Cleveland by six games.
"When you put yourself in a hole, that mountain when you're standing at the bottom of it, it looks like it never ends," Cuddyer said. "But when you're climbing and taking every step, that next step looks closer. That's kind of the way we relayed it. Every night you go out and try to figure out a way to win, and by the time it's all said and done, hopefully you've climbed to the top."
Playing a Central team is usually a good tonic for Minnesota, which has won 13 of its last 16 games against division foes. The Twins have also won 16 of their last 21 home games.
Nathan could play a big part in Minnesota's resurgence. He certainly caught the eye of Royals manager Ned Yost.
"His fastball is down from what it used to be, but it still looks crisp. His breaking ball looks a lot sharper, to me, than it did," Yost said. "But I ain't seen him in a long time."
Alcides Escobar homered for Kansas City, which has lost six of seven to the Twins.
Carl Pavano pitched seven innings for Minnesota, allowing three runs and six hits. He cruised through the first four innings, allowing just two hits.
The Royals broke through with Escobar's two-out homer in the fifth and added a run in the sixth as Melky Cabrera singled, stole second and scored on a groundout by Eric Hosmer.
Mauer had an RBI grounder, Cuddyer singled and Delmon Young doubled for a 2-0 lead in the first. Butera's second homer made it 3-0 in the fourth.
Francis retired 11 batters in a row before Casilla's single in the eighth.
NOTES: The Twins retired former pitcher Bert Blyleven's No. 28 in a pregame ceremony. Blyleven pitched 11 seasons for Minnesota and holds the franchise records for complete games (141), shutouts (29) and strikeouts (2,035). Blyleven will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame next week and is the sixth Twins player to have his number retired. ... Minnesota OFs Denard Span (concussion) and Jason Kubel (foot) traveled to Triple-A Rochester to begin their rehab assignments. Span is set to play five innings in the outfield on Sunday, while Kubel will play nine innings as the designated hitter.