No matter how good James Shields is, the Royals can’t seem to provide him with an easy night. Don’t be deceived by the final score, either. Friday night was typical Shields outing except for one thing:
He got the winning decision when the Royals opened a three-game weekend stay at U.S. Cellular Field by pulling away late for a 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
“It’s always good when you’re throwing up zeroes,” he said, “but it’s a grind. It’s (been) a grind all season. I’m glad we got the win and glad I pitched well today.”
More than well.
Shields, 5-7, worked seven shutout innings before handing a two-run lead to the bullpen. He gave up eight hits, all singles, and has now permitted only five runs this season to the White Sox in 26 innings over four starts.
Kelvin Herrera retired the first two hitters in the eighth before serving up a homer to Conor Gillaspie, whose line drive to right just cleared the wall.
So it was white-knuckle time ... until the Royals answered with three runs in the ninth against relievers Matt Lindstrom and David Purcey.
After Billy Butler opened the inning with a walk against Lindstrom, Jarrod Dyson entered the game as a pinch runner and immediately stole second.
“Walks usually come back to hurt,” Butler said. “Late in the game, in a tight game, those are little things that are big things.”
Dyson moved to third on Salvy Perez’s single through the left side -- after holding up long enough to make sure the ball got into the outfield.
Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas followed with RBI singles, which turned a one-run lead into a three-run cushion. In came Purcey, who retired Elliot Johnson on a pop-up.
David Lough followed with a knuckling fly to left that Casper Wells, just inserted for defense, simply dropped. The scoring was a sacrifice fly, an error and resulted in a four-run lead.
The three-run ninth meant the Royals, 49-51, turned to Luke Hochevar to finish off their fourth straight victory instead of closer Greg Holland.
“We’ve got an All-Star closer,” manager Ned Yost said. “We feel good with a one-run lead. But a two-run lead, you’re feeling really good. Then when we got three (in the ninth), we moved it to Hoch.”
The Royals built a 2-0 lead for Shields on Lough’s leadoff homer in the third inning, and Miguel Tejada’s sacrifice fly in the seventh after a leadoff double by Perez.
Both runs came against Chicago starter Jose Quintana, who fell to 5-3 despite permitting just six hits in seven innings.
“We didn’t do anything drastic in that game,” Butler said, “but you look up, and we scored five. It definitely was not easy. Quintana has always given us problems.
“We just kind of grinded it out, and you have a chance to grind it out when you have a guy who pitches like Shields did today.”
Shields got off to a good start with a one-two-three first inning, which marked the first time in five starts that he didn’t surrender a run in the first. Eighteen of his 51 earned runs this year scored in the first inning.
“It’s nice,” he admitted, “to get a little one-two-three in the first inning.”
Chicago mounted a two-out threat in the second inning after Gillaspie singled through the middle. Dayan Viciedo followed with a walk before Cain ran down Gordon Beckham’s drive to deep center.
“I was able to get a good read on it, a good jump,” Cain said. “I was able to get back on the ball and make the play.”
Lough opened the scoring with a leadoff homer in third inning. He drove a 2-2 change-up an estimated 388 feet into the Royals’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall.
“Tough lefty,” Lough said. “I’d faced him once before. It seems like he comes right at you. It was a change-up in, and I was just able to get it out.”
Shields pitched around another two-on jam in the fourth -- again when Cain ran down a deep fly by Beckham for the final out.
The White Sox got two singles in fifth, but Shields erased the first one -- by Alejandro De Aza -- with a pickoff at first base.
It was the 26th pickoff of Shields’ career, which is the most by a right-hander since he entered the league in 2006.
Adam Dunn opened the Chicago sixth with a single and went to third on Viciedo’s two-out single up the middle. That got the game, again, to Beckham in an RBI situation.
A wild pitch moved Viciedo to second -- Dunn held at third -- before Shields loaded the bases by walking Beckham. Shields held the lead by retiring Josh Phegley on a soft grounder to third; Moustakas stepped on the base.
The Royals, after Lough’s homer, didn’t get a runner past first against Quintana until Perez started the seventh inning with a double down the left-field line.
Perez went to third on Cain’s grounder to second, which prompted the White Sox to shorten their infield with Moustakas at the plate. The strategy didn’t matter when Moustakas drew a four-pitch walk.
Chicago positioned its infield, at that point, at double-play depth for Tejada, who foiled that approach by rocking a sacrifice fly to deep center. That, as it turned out, proved to the winning run.
“I think we’re playing some decent baseball right now,” Shields said. “We’re on a little roll and it’s nice. We’re on all cylinders right now. The last two months are coming in. It’s time to go, time to ride.”