CHICAGO | Before the first inning was over, before it was close to being over Friday night, the Royals found themselves in need of either (a) a miracle comeback or (b) a torrential downpour from those threatening clouds ringing U.S. Cellular Field.
The comeback fell short. The rain never came. And the Royals just had to take their beating, a 9-5 slap from the Chicago White Sox.
It was all epilogue, really, after the White Sox peppered Zack Greinke for six runs in the first inning. It was death by a thousand cuts. Greinke gave up seven hits, all singles, and five were seeing-eye grounders that scooted through the infield.
No less lethal, though.
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That was plenty for Chicago starter Mark Buehrle, enough even to survive a booming three-run homer by Billy Butler in the sixth inning.
Buehrle, 7-8, allowed four runs and four hits in seven innings before Nick Masset, Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel closed out the victory.
Butler’s homer was a 431-foot bomb to left that pulled the Royals to within 7-4, but Chicago responded with two runs in its sixth.
So much for the comeback. Struggling Jimmy Gobble was the primary victim; he faced three batters and walked two and hit one.
Buehrle’s victory repaid the Royals for a heartbreaking loss July 10 in his last start at Kauffman Stadium. Buehrle pitched seven shutout innings that night before the Royals capitalized on some sloppy defense and an ineffective bullpen for four runs in the eighth.
It was wretched coronation for Greinke, who drew the first start in the post-break schedule, over Gil Meche, in acknowledgement of his fine first half.
Specifically, manager Trey Hillman made the move in order to allow Greinke to start games against the White Sox and Tigers, two divisional opponents, in their first two post-break series.
Made sense -- seemed to anyway until Greinke failed to make it through four innings.
In fact, Greinke exited with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. It was his shortest outing since last Aug. 24, when he went just three innings in his first start after returning to the rotation following 38 consecutive relief appearances.
Greinke, 7-6, gave up seven runs and 11 hits in three-plus innings and saw his ERA spike to a season-high 3.90. Chicago finished with 12 hits, including three by Jermaine Dye and at least one by eight different players. Carlos Quentin hit his 23rd homer while leading off the second. That expanded that lead to 7-1 at that point.
Perhaps none of this should be a surprise. The Royals have just 18 victories in their last 70 games at The Cell. They are 0-4 here this season with two more games this weekend and another three-game series in August.
The victory enabled the White Sox, 55-40, to maintain their 1½-game lead over second-place Minnesota in the American League Central Division. The Royals are 43-54 and 13 games out.
The Royals played without outfielder Jose Guillen, who was scratched from the lineup after experiencing back spasms. His availability for tonight’s game remains questionable.
Butler also had an RBI single in the eighth against reliever Nick Masset. His four RBIs were a season high. Butler was the only Royal with more than one hit.
No player reflects the Royals’ struggles in Chicago more than Greinke. His two worst outings of the season have been at The Cell. He gave up eight runs, including six in the first two innings, on June 3 in a 9-5 loss.
Greinke is now 0-6 in eight career games here while compiling a 7.78 ERA. In contrast, he is 2-2 with a 2.93 ERA in eight career appearances against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.