Kansas City’s offense came to life late and Chicago had no answer as the Royals cruised to an 8-3 victory.
The first inning was one of the quickest innings you’ll ever see in a big league game. Kris Bubic struck out Josh Harrison on three pitches, then retired Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez on groundouts, finishing the inning with eight pitches thrown. Johnny Cueto was even more efficient. MJ Melendez lined Cueto’s second pitch into right for a leadoff single, but Bobby Witt Jr. flew out on the first pitch (he crushed it to center and just missed a homer, .920 xBA) and Salvador Perez grounded into a double play on his first pitch.
The second inning stood in stark contrast to the first as Bubic’s command abandoned him. He hung a changeup away to José Abreu and Abreu did exactly what one should do on such a pitch: let it travel and blast it the other way for a leadoff double. Bubic then loaded the bases with one out via walks to Andrew Vaughn and Yasmani Grandal. He managed to escape the jam thanks to a soft lineout by Gavin Sheets and a strikeout of Lenyn Sosa. It’s a good thing a fast runner wasn’t at third base on that lineout, because Melendez initially appeared to think he caught the third out of the inning and started toward the infield with his head down.
Kansas City drew first blood in the third inning. With one out, Kyle Isbel bounced one past Abreu down the right field line for a double. Nicky Lopez followed with a pop-up before Melendez drew a four pitch walk, with ball four being very borderline. Witt made it count. He got a 3-1 cutter right down Broadway and ripped it into left field. A good defensive left fielder may have had a play on it, but fortunately Chicago had Vaughn playing out there. The ball dropped in and Isbel cruised home with the game’s first run.
The game proceeded scoreless for the next few innings, with plenty of traffic on the bases for both teams but neither able to break through. But in the sixth, the Sox struck. Abreu lead off the inning with a single and after Bubic retired Vaughn, he walked Yoán Moncada and Grandal singled to load the bases. Sheets smoked a curveball that came off the bat at 106.1 mph right at Michael Massey. But he was unable to field the hot shot as it squirted past him, allowing two runs to score. After Sosa was retired on a shallow flyball, Josh Harrison poked a grounder through the 3B-SS hole to score another run. Wyatt Mills came in for Bubic and retired Robert to end the inning, but the damage was done; 3-1 Sox.
Kansas City answered in the bottom of the frame. Witt showed off his wheels by reaching on a bouncer that Moncada fielded somewhat awkwardly. Perez followed that by scorching a double to the right-center gap that easily scored Witt to bring the Royals within a run. Moncada’s fielding struggles continued when Hunter Dozier bounced the first pitch he saw towards him. Moncada fielded it nicely but his throw to first was wide, allowing Dozier to reach and Perez to advance to third. After Pratto struck out, Massey worked the count full before doinking a low-and-away changeup to center field to tie the game.
This game became a battle of the bullpens in the seventh inning and Chicago’s faltered badly. Facing Jake Diekman, Melendez got a slider on the inner half of the plate and Merv turned on it, sending it into the Royals bullpen to take a 4-3 lead. Not content with a one-run lead, the Royals kept rolling in the eighth. A single, walk, and sac bunt gave the Royals runners on second and third with one out. Isbel grounded a single through the left side of the infield to push the lead to 6-3. He stole second in the subsequent at-bat and eventually came around to score on Melendez’s third hit of the night. Following a Witt walk, Perez tacked on another run with a line drive to left.
The Royals bullpen, a major Achilles heel of the team, held strong in the late innings. Mills, Josh Staumont, Dylan Coleman, and Luke Weaver combined to retire the final ten White Sox hitters, five of them going down on strikes.
It was a banner night for the youth movement. Rookies, as well as near-rookie Isbel, went a combined 13-23 with a double, a homer, three walks, and just four strikeouts. They contributed all but one run scored and all but two runs batted in.
The win brings the Royals to 46-66 and secures at least a series split. They are 7-3 in their past ten games. Kansas City will have their work cut out for them as they go for the series win tomorrow afternoon against Cy Young contender Dylan Cease.
Kris Bubic - 5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 0 HR
Johnny Cueto - 6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
MJ Melendez - 3-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB
José Abreu - 2-4, 2B, R