CHICAGO — Lorenzo Cain’s night started with two overmatched strikeouts Friday and included a check-swing grounder on a 3-0 count. Really ugly stuff.
He also hit two home runs – and the second one, a two-run drive in the ninth inning, finally provided the Royals with a lead they could sustain in a 7-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
“The night definitely started off rough for me,” Cain said. “But I guess it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
This finish was particularly sweet for the Royals after two tough one-run losses to Texas at home. Cain put a 409-foot charge into a slider from Chicago closer Addison Reed after Johnny Giavotella opened the inning with a single.
“I was expecting a bunt (sign),” Cain said, “but I didn’t see it. Then I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. He threw me a slider, and I ended up hitting it out.”
After that, the Royals just needed their closer, Greg Holland, to do what starter Luis Mendoza failed to do on three occasions, i.e., not give the lead right back. Holland set down the White Sox in the ninth for his 12th straight successful save conversion.
Cain’s second homer – his first career multi-homer game – and Holland’s save presented Kelvin Herrera (2-2) with a deserved victory for cleaning up Aaron Crow’s mess in the eighth inning.
“Herrera was phenomenal,” manager Ned Yost said. “He deserved (the victory) doing what he did, coming in in that situation and snuffing it out.”
Reed (3-2) was the loser.
Back to Herrera: It was 5-5 when A.J. Pierzynski led off the Chicago eighth with a single to right against Crow, who then hit Dayan Viciedo. That moved pinch-runner Jordan Danks to second and brought Herrera into the game.
Alexei Ramirez’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third with one out. The Royals shortened their infield before resetting to normal depth when Herrera struck out Gordon Beckham.
An intentional walk to Alejandro De Aza loaded the bases, but José Lopez popped out to third. The sent the game tied into the ninth. Giavotella singled against Reed. Cain homered. Holland closed it out.
And cue it up: The Royals got to revel again in their new postgame celebration: a clubhouse dance by reliever Jeremy Jeffress to wall-shaking music.
It was a happy bunch.
The Royals have won six straight games over the first-place White Sox, and hold a 9-4 lead in the season series, but Mendoza made this one interesting by spitting back leads in three straight innings by surrendering home runs.
“I’m disappointed,” he admitted. “My teammates gave me good run support, and I should do a better job. But they kept scoring runs and the bullpen, as always, was very good.”
It was 3-3 when Chicago starter Francisco Liriano started the sixth by walking Salvy Perez and Mike Moustakas. That brought reliever Nate Jones into the game for a right-one-right matchup against Jeff Francoeur, who squirted an RBI double past first.
Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to center made it 5-3.
Yost sent Mendoza back to the mound in the sixth to face the bottom of the order.
“We’ve got (Tim) Collins ready for the top of the order,” Yost said. “So I’m thinking, `OK, you need to get two of the three guys out and keep the ball in the park.’”
None of that happened.
Viciedo led off with a single, and Ramirez tied the game with a no-doubt blast to left.
That took Liriano off the hook for a loss.
Ramirez’s homer came after Mendoza blew a 2-1 lead in the fourth by serving up a leadoff homer to Pierzynski; and blew a 3-2 lead in the fifth by surrendering a leadoff homer to Dewayne Wise.
Chicago stung Mendoza for a quick run in the first inning after De Aza led off with a single and went to second on Lopez’s grounder to third. Mendoza walked Wise before Paul Konerko pulled an RBI single through the left side.
The Royals answered immediately with a bloop and a blast.
Billy Butler opened the second by flicking a single into right, and Perez followed by turning an 0-2 slider into a low laser over the left-field wall. Asked how the ball had sufficient carry on such a low trajectory, Perez smiled and pointed at a flexed bicep.
With a big laugh, he said, “There’s your answer.”
That homer extended Perez’s hitting streak to a career-best 12 games, which is also the longest streak this season by a Royal.
The game’s top defensive play came in the Chicago third after Wise yanked a leadoff triple into the into the right-field corner. Mendoza retired Konerko on a fly to medium right – Wise held third rather than run on Francoeur.
Alex Rios then sent a pop into short right. Three players converged on it – Francoeur from right, Giavotella from second and Hosmer from first. Giavotella made the catch and, when Wise tested him, turned and threw a strike to Perez at the plate for a double play.
“I knew there was one out,” Giavotella said, “and I knew if I was going to catch it, that Wise would tag up. And sure enough, I was able to get to it. I just turned around and fired it home. Salvy made a good play to tag the guy out.”
It was a great play by Gio, but it only delayed Chicago pulling even.
Pierzynski led off the fourth with a homer.
The Royals recaptured the lead on Cain’s first home run, a two-out boomer in the fifth after he struck out feebly in two previous at-bats against Liriano.
“He was definitely eating me alive with that changeup,” Cain said. “I couldn’t touch it. Couldn’t see it. Couldn’t do anything with it. But he ended up hanging me a slider there right down the middle of the plate.”
Mendoza gave it right back: Wise led off the Chicago fifth with homer.
But Cain had the last swing.
“For me to hit two sliders out,” he said, “is definitely a good night.”