In the moments before Saturday’s game was decided, before Salvador Perez stung a go-ahead double in a 4-3 Royals victory over the White Sox, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon bounced at second base and readied himself.
He knew what to expect, he insisted afterward. In those spots, Gordon explained, Perez is “usually doing damage. So I was ready to get moving.”
Perez flipped his bat as he sprinted to first. He posed at second base to salute his teammates. The rally saved the team from the frustration of yet another bullpen blowup, and represented another notch of Perez’s resume.
“He’s a clutch player,” manager Ned Yost said. “He really is.”
In their third one-run game of this four-game season, the Royals emerged triumphant. In the process, they pulled back to 2-2, with a chance to go over .500 when James Shields duels with White Sox ace Chris Sale on Sunday.
Perez delivered the game’s defining blow. But he was not the only standout. Bruce Chen mystified the White Sox for 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Billy Butler drove in two runs. Nori Aoki saved the lead with a sun-blinded eighth-inning catch, and Gordon doubled to set the table for Perez in the bottom of the frame.
“There were a lot of big things that happened today to help us win,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “A lot of guys in key spots who were really producing and contributing to the team.”
They overcame a base-running gaffe by Hosmer that muddied a fourth-inning rally and an eighth-inning hiccup from setup man Wade Davis. Hosmer attributed his mistake to a miscommunication with new third-base coach Dale Sveum; Yost chalked up Davis’ struggles to a bout of faulty mechanics.
After three no-hit innings from Chicago starter John Danks, the Royals rallied in the fourth. After singles by Omar Infante and Hosmer, Butler knocked in a run. Gordon floated another single to right, where the ball hit the ground before the dive of outfielder Dayan Viciedo.
The bases should have been loaded. Except as Hosmer rounded the third base, Sveum pointed with his left hand to the bag and with his right hand toward the plate. His message was for Hosmer to hold up. In his haste, Hosmer only saw the right hand. He interpreted the signal as a green light.
“I figured the ball got away from somebody, or something like that,” Hosmer said.
Instead, he was caught in a rundown. The Royals notched only two runs in the inning. The lead appeared safe — until the eighth.
Davis has appeared in all four of the team’s games so far. For the most part, he has looked dominant. Asked to protect a two-run lead, he looked less so on Saturday. It was a quiet combustion caused by two singles, a walk and a hit batsman.
Chicago scored two runs. It could have been worse. With two outs, shortstop Alexi Ramirez stroked a 95-mph fastball to right. Set up shallow, Aoki gave chase, fighting off the afternoon’s glare before sprawling into the grass with the catch.
“A game-saving catch,” Yost called it, and no one in the clubhouse disagreed.
“For me, personally,” Aoki said through his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji, “that was the play I was most happy with today.”
The Royals watched their rally nearly fizzle in the eighth. Inserted as a pinch runner, Jarrod Dyson was thrown out trying to swipe second base. Gordon was undeterred. He hung in after falling behind 0-2 to lefty Scott Downs, and thumped a double to right.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura turned to right-hander Maikel Cleto. He spent a few days with the Royals this spring, before they designated him for assignment. He never crossed paths with Perez during that time. Inside the dugout, hitting coach Pedro Grifol showed Perez a scouting report.
“He throws hard,” Perez said.
Cleto lived up to his billing. He pumped a 97-mph fastball for a first-pitch strike. As a follow-up he chose a slider, one that was “a little bit up and inside,” Perez said. He ripped the double down the third-base line. Yost commended his star catcher for his heroics and remarked on how calm Perez appeared in that moment.
“The best definition of a clutch player is a guy that can rise to the occasion without raising his emotions,” Yost said. “He stays within himself. He stays steady. And makes things happen.”