Just when all signs pointed to the Chicago White Sox taking control of the game behind their dominating ace pitcher and All-Star Lucas Giolito, the top of the Royals order got to him for three runs before an out got recorded.
Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler set the table, and Hunter Dozier cleared it with his 26th home run of the season. The homer broke a tie in the sixth inning and put the Royals in front for good as they beat the White Sox 6-3 in front of an announced 13,838 at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday afternoon.
The Royals have now won four consecutive series for the first time since June 2017.
“It’s four series in a row we’ve won, so it’s definitely nice with the way the year has gone,” Dozier said. “I think we’re just playing with confidence right now and trying to finish the year out strong.”
The Royals (55-92) made enough noise against Giolito to take the rubber match of the series despite Giolito’s 12-strikeout day. The Royals improved to 3-12 in rubber matches this season. The Royals, who lost 104 games last season, need an 8-7 finish to avoid 100 losses this season.
Soler hit his 44th home run, extending his season franchise record, one day after he enjoyed a two-homer day in the city where he started his major-league career with the Cubs. Dozier homered, and Erick Mejia collected his first RBI in the big leagues on a third-inning sacrifice fly.
Giolito reached 10 strikeouts in the fifth inning, his sixth game of the season (seventh in his career) with 10 or more strikeouts. It marked the third time this season he’d struck out at least 10 against the Royals.
Giolito struck out eight in a row from the start of the third to the second out of the fifth, a White Sox franchise record for consecutive strikeouts. The first six strikeouts were all on swing-and-miss third strikes.
Nicky Lopez’s ground ball to shortstop at the end of the fifth broke up the strikeout streak.
“I stood up and screamed like we hit a game-winning homer when we just grounded out,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I didn’t want to see nine consecutive strikeouts. Giolito has been tough on us all year long. The improvements he has made have been impressive. His development as a pitcher is probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen all year long.”
With Giolito seemingly locked in, a pitch count still below 80 and the game tied 2-2 going into the sixth, it appeared the Royals had an uphill climb ahead.
Merrifield started the inning off with a nine-pitch battle of wills with Giolito that ended with a walk as ball four sailed high and to the backstop. Merrifield became the first batter to reach base since the second inning.
Soler then dumped a 1-2 pitch into center field for a single that put Merrifield in scoring position and brought Dozier to the plate.
“Whit just battled, battled, battled like Whit does,” Yost said. “Soler is swinging the bat pretty good right now. He can match up against anybody. That home run that he hit against Giolito his first at-bat was a monster homer.
“So those are kind of the at-bats that we expect from those guys, and they gave it to us there and allowed Doz, who had kind of struggled his first two at-bats, to get a pitch out over the plate that he could drive.”
Dozier, who had struck out swinging in each of his previous at-bats against Giolito, jumped on the first pitch from Giolito and pulled it to left field for a three-run home run. The Royals led the rest of the game.
“I think I was just thinking a little bit too much the first two at-bats,” Dozier said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher. He’s been tough on us all year. I was just trying to slow it down, get back to my approach, and I just reacted on a ball in and put a good swing on it.”
Royals starting pitcher Jorge Lopez (4-7) allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks in 5 and 1/3 innings. Lopez came out with one run in and a runner on and just one out in the sixth. Royals left-handed reliever Tim Hill struck out the next two batters to preserve the lead.
Royals reliever Scott Barlow came out with bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, and Gabe Speier struck out Leury Garcia swinging to end that threat.
Bubba Starling walked and scored on a passed ball in the ninth to give the Royals their sixth run.
The Royals return home for a three-game series against the Houston Astros starting Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. Royals left-hander Danny Duffy (6-6, 4.71 ERA) is scheduled to start opposite of Astors right-hander Gerrit Cole (16-5, 2.73).