A fly ball not caught that, probably, should have been caught broke open a tight pitchers’ duel Wednesday night and helped lift the Royals to a 3-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Alex Gordon’s two-out fly to deep left in the seventh inning eluded Dayan Viciedo at the wall and turned into a two-run double that provided the Royals’ bullpen with a bit of breathing space in closing out a shutout victory for veteran lefty Bruce Chen.
Viciedo appeared poised to make the catch but simply failed to do so.
“It was a hard-hit ball,” he said, “and I was just running fast toward it and lost it for a second.”
Gordon suggested the play is tougher than it looked, and he knows that wall, with its wraparound flashing lights, better than anyone.
“That wall is different than any other field,” Gordon said. “It’s a tough play. I thought I hit it pretty well. I was hoping to find a gap, but I hit it right at him. Luckily, I hit it well enough to get it over his head.”
It wasn’t exactly over Viciedo’s head but all that matters, really, was it meant two more runs against Chicago lefty Chris Sale, who lost for the third time in six decisions this season against the Royals.
“He’s a Cy Young candidate,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “You know what he’s got after facing him so many times, but it’s still Sale out there. He’s got that Bugs Bunny slider. He’s lost a little velo, but his 92 (mph) is still pretty good.”
The victory enabled the Royals to hold off the mathematical certainty of a losing season and elimination of possible postseason play for at least one more day. They are 67-81 with 14 games remaining – and trail first-place Chicago by 14 games.
Chen, 11-12, escaped a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the fourth and threw a season-high 114 pitches before handing a 1-0 lead to Kelvin Herrera, who worked around two-on, two-out jams in the seventh and eighth before Greg Holland completed the shutout.
Eric Hosmer opened the Royals’ decisive seventh with a hustle double — by running on Alejandro De Aza’s arm. Johnny Giavotella jumped ahead 3-1 in the count before swinging through two off-speed pitches from Sale for a strikeout.
Hosmer moved to third on Jason Bourgeois’ grounder to second before Alcides Escobar, who had hits in his three previous at-bats, got an intentional walk.
“I was surprised about that,” Escobar said. “I know Sale is a lefty, and Gordon is a lefty, too. But when the catcher (Tyler Flowers) said, ‘Hey, Esky, we’re walking you.’ I said, ‘Oh, really?’ ”
Gordon sent a drive to deep left that sent Viciedo to the wall in plenty of time to make the catch – but Vicideo, possibly worried at slamming into the wall, just whiffed on the catch. The result was a two-run double and a 3-0 lead.
“A one-run lead, you have absolutely no room for error,” manager Ned Yost said. “Even a two-run lead, you get a little bit more room. It makes it easier with your pitching matchups. It makes it easier on your pitcher, a little easier on your defense.”
It extended Gordon’s major-league-leading total to 49 doubles.
It also finished Sale, who has allowed eight or more hits in just four of his 27 starts — all against the Royals. Nate Jones got the inning’s final out.
Herrera got two quick outs in the Chicago eighth before singles by Alex Rios and Dewayne Wise, batting for Viciedo, put runners at first and third. Herrera escaped by striking out Alexei Ramirez.
Holland pitched around De Aza’s two-out double in the ninth inning for his 14th save in 15 chances since becoming the Royals’ closer.
Sale fell to 17-7. The loss trimmed Chicago’s lead to two games over second-place Detroit in the American League Central Division.
Chen began the game by yielding a single to De Aza and falling behind 3-1 on Kevin Youkilis, but everything turned around when Youkilis took a cutter for a borderline strike — and catcher Salvy Perez threw out De Aza on an attempted steal.
Youkilis took the next pitch for a called third strike before Adam Dunn grounded out to first on the first pitch. It meant Chen ended up with a nine-pitch inning.
The Royals scored the game’s first run after Bourgeois pulled a one-out single through the left side in the third inning. Escobar followed with an infield single off Sale’s heel before a walk to Gordon loaded the bases.
Billy Butler whacked Sale’s first pitch to left for a sacrifice fly and a 1-0 lead. It was Butler’s 98th RBI – the most by a Royal since Carlos Beltran had 100 in 2003. Sale limited the damage to one run by striking out Perez.
Chen’s great escape came after opening the Chicago fourth with full-count walks to Dunn and Paul Konerko. A single by Rios between short and third loaded the bases with no outs, but Chen got out of it.
Viciedo fouled out to third. Ramirez popped to first. And Flowers took a third strike. The White Sox stranded 11 runners by game’s end; Rios’ single in the fourth was their only hit in 12 chances with runners in scoring position.
“I made good pitches when I needed to,” Chen said. “Salvador did a real good job of calling the game. We didn’t panic. We stuck to our game plan, and we made the pitches we needed to.”