At first, the Royals’ game against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday seemed like so many gut-wrenching losses the team has experienced this season.
You know, the kind of game where they fight back from an early deficit to tie the score, only to see their hopes for a win vanish, courtesy of a counterstrike by the opponent and a host of missed opportunities.
Things, however, did not play out that way on this muggy Sunday afternoon, as the Royals used an eighth-inning rally, not to mention a little help from the White Sox, to mount a 7-6 come-from-behind win before a crowd of 18,622 at Kauffman Stadium.
“For us to pull out that victory late in the game, it shows our resiliency and what we’re capable of doing,” said outfielder David Lough, who had a team-best three hits. “We’ll fight to the end.”
After falling behind 4-0 early, the Royals scored four unanswered runs to tie the game by the sixth inning. The White Sox reclaimed the lead with a two-run seventh, but the Royals did not go down quietly, as Chicago reliever Jesse Crain (who had a franchise-record 29 consecutive scoreless appearance streak entering the game) endured an uncharacteristically rocky eighth.
Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a single to left field in a two-strike count, and Lough followed by poking a slider out to right field. Elliot Johnson then laid down a bunt that Crain, 2-2, couldn’t handle (he was charged with the first of two White Sox errors in the inning) and just like that, the Royals had the bases loaded with no outs with the same duo that hit back-to-back homers earlier in the game, George Kottaras and Jarrod Dyson, coming to the plate.
Crain, however, bore down on both of them, striking them out back-to-back.
“You got the bases loaded there with tying run at second, and George couldn’t put it in play, Dyson couldn’t put it in play,” manager Ned Yost said. “But you know, we still felt good.”
Especially with Alex Gordon, who had snapped his recent zero-for-14 skid with a pair of singles and a RBI earlier in the game, coming to the plate. Gordon responded by taking a tough slider on a 3-1 count to walk and drive home a run, and from there, the Royals got a little help from the White Sox, as Alcides Escobar hit a hard grounder to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who let the ball skid past him as Lough and Johnson sped home to give the Royals a 7-6 lead.
Reliever Greg Holland nailed down the ninth inning for his 16th save, solidifying the first victory of the season for Luke Hochevar (who improved to 1-1 by pitching a scoreless eighth) and a crucial win that helped the Royals snap a four-game losing skid and avoid a three-game sweep by the White Sox, 31-42.
“We didn’t get swept, that’s good,” said right-hander James Shields, who got a no-decision. “We’re playing some pretty good baseball overall this month and we’re going to try to continue that.”
The Royals, 35-38, improved to 13-8 in the month of June, even though Shields didn’t have his best stuff Sunday. He scuffled some through five innings, allowing four earned runs — all courtesy of Adam Dunn, who had a two-run single and a two-run homer — on seven hits and ended a streak of 29 starts of pitching six innings.
“Quality starters and work-horses like him are gonna have two or three starts like this a year,” Yost said.
Shields generally attributed his struggles to a lack of command. He threw 97 pitches, 62 for strikes, but still managed to pitch his way out of trouble enough times to keep the Royals within striking distance entering the bottom of the fifth, when the White Sox led 4-1.
“I got behind almost every single hitter and as a result, you’re not going to throw deep in the game, that’s just the bottom line,” Shields said. “I guess I have to start another 29-game streak.”
Shields hasn’t received much run support all season — his 2-6 record undermines his exceptional 2.92 ERA through 16 starts — but was rewarded, somewhat, for his grittiness on Sunday, as the Royals got him off the hook for the loss by mounting a comeback right after his final inning.
Kottaras kicked off the Royals’ side of the fifth with a solo home run to right, and Dyson followed with a home run of his own, marking the first time the Royals have hit back-to-back home runs all year. That made the score 4-3, and Escobar — who doubled a few batters later — eventually came home on a RBI single to left by Billy Butler that knotted the score at 4-4.
That was all the Royals could muster in the inning, but they did successfully chase White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod, who allowed 10 hits and four runs (all earned) in 4 2/3 innings.
Royals reliever J.C. Gutierrez pitched a scoreless sixth inning — his strikeout of Paul Konerko on a sharp, 3-2 curveball with runners on first and second was crucial — but the White Sox retook the lead in the seventh, when struggling reliever Kelvin Herrera inherited a baserunner with one out, walked Jeff Keppinger and allowed a two-run double to Gordon Beckham that gave the White Sox a 6-4 lead.
“In that case, it was the wrong move on my part,” said Yost, who wanted Herrera to face Keppinger despite Herrera’s 5.00 ERA in 28 appearances entering the game. “But the offense covered it there in the eighth inning.”
Boy, did it, as the Royals used a lot of grit and a little luck to rally back for a badly-needed win entering today’s off day.
“We’re going into the off day being three games under .500 as opposed to five games under .500, so any win like that — especially this time of year — is huge,” said Yost, whose team begins a two-game homestand against Atlanta on Tuesday. “Getting back to .500 is big for us. And once we get there, we want to continue to get past it.”