Plouffe hit a tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Denard Span had a game-ending RBI double in the 10th and the Twins rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.
Alexi Casilla led off the 10th with a double to right-center off Francisley Bueno (1-1) that fell just beyond the glove of diving center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who injured his right hamstring on the play and had to leave the game. He'll be reevaluated tomorrow. Span then hit a double over the head of right fielder Eric Hosmer for the win.
Closer Glen Perkins (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.
Plouffe was on a torrid streak at the plate in June, hitting .327 with 11 home runs. He was hitting .302 in July with three home runs before bruising his right thumb July 20 and going on the disabled list. Since his Aug. 13 return, Plouffe is hitting .180 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.
"I felt better today at the plate. I didn't play yesterday, so (hitting coach Joe) Vavra and I worked a lot in the cage just figuring some things out so I felt comfortable. I felt good all day today. ... It's something I've got to build on."
Plouffe also flashed some leather, lunging to his right in the fifth inning to rob Alcides Escobar of an extra-bases hit and then throwing out the shortstop at first.
"He's been working really hard on his defense and on his steps. There's a lot that goes into the game and he's a little flustered," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "It was a really good play, a really aggressive throw."
Plouffe came up as a shortstop, but has since made a switch to the hot corner.
"The angles are way different at third base. You've got to drop-step for a lot of those balls, especially the ones that are hit hard and at shortstop-second base you're taught to come in and get the ball," he said. "I just got to keep working."
After being stymied by Royals starter Luis Mendoza for most of six innings and reliever Aaron Crow for one, Minnesota loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth against reliever Kelvin Herrera before Royals closer Greg Holland entered and walked Willingham to make it 3-2.
"You don't want to lose a game like that," said Kansas City manager Ned Yost. "They beat our best."
Mendoza, who had allowed 13 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings over his past three starts, kept the ball down and allowed two hits while striking out six.
After allowing Willingham's home run and a single to Justin Morneau in the first inning, Mendoza retired 14 of the next 16 Minnesota batters, including four of five by strikeout at one point. The two Twins to reach were by walk.
Minnesota starter Liam Hendriks overcame a rough start to allow seven hits and three earned runs over five innings. He walked two and struck out three.
Hendriks became the fifth player since 1920 to go winless in his first 17 career starts. The record is 20 set by Bill Caudill of the Cubs (1979-81) and Oakland's Mike Mohler (1993-97). Besides his 13 starts this year, Hendriks was 0-2 with four starts for Minnesota in 2011. However, he was 9-3 at Triple-A Rochester this season.
Hendriks gave up a two-run single to Perez as part of a 30-pitch first inning as he struggled to attack the zone and get ahead of hitters, but settled down after that.
Willingham countered with his 34th home run in the bottom of the inning.
The Royals were 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
"We could have done more to get a more comfortable lead," said left fielder Alex Gordon. "Our bullpen has been lights out this year, and it's going to happen once in a while."
Butler was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing a called strike. ... Twins All-Star Joe Mauer missed his third straight game due to back spasms. ... Minnesota starting pitcher Cole De Vries is done for the year after an MRI Thursday revealed a cracked rib. The right-hander finishes 5-5 with a 4.11 ERA in his rookie season. ... Minnesota C-OF Ryan Doumit is day to day with a strained muscle in his rib cage. ... Esmerling Vasquez (0-1, 9.35) is scheduled to start Friday for Minnesota when it welcomes Chicago to start a three-game series. The White Sox will send Chris Sale (16-6, 2.88) to the mound. Kansas City returns home to face Los Angeles Friday with Bruce Chen (10-12, 5.36) scheduled to face the Angels C.J. Wilson (12-9, 3.69).