The Royals had grabbed a 3-2 lead, but the White Sox were battling back in the fifth inning. They had runners at first and second with two outs and Jose Abreu, who had already hit the first of his two home runs, stood at the plate and fouled off a pitch with a full count.
On that pitch from Jeremy Guthrie, Royals catcher Salvador Perez noticed something about the runner at second, Geovany Soto.
“He’s just putting his head down and going,” Perez said.
So, Perez gave Guthrie the pickoff signal, and Guthrie move started the rundown that ended the inning. The Royals went on to a 7-6 victory Saturday night that was filled with alert moves and solid plate appearances and punctuated by a three-strikeout ninth inning by closer Greg Holland, catching Abreu looking to end the game.
“I got a one, two, three inning,” Holland said. “Seems like I haven’t had one of those in a while.”
The Royals won their second straight and moved to 65-44 on the season, opening a 10 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central Division.
It’s the first time since the final day of the 1980 season that the Royals have held a division lead by double digit games.
The cushion allowed Royals manager Ned Yost to give relief pitcher Wade Davis another day of rest. Davis hasn’t pitched since Thursday, and the eighth inning, with the Royals’ nursing a one-run lead, is his domain.
But Davis has a sore back.
“Can he pitch through it? Probably,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “The danger that you run into is that if your back is a little stiff you may change mechanics and create problems elsewhere, and that’s the last thing we want to do.
“We’ve got leeway, we have breathing room. We want to make sure that we don’t do anything crazy with Wade. We give him the time to get that stiffness.”
The Royals bullpen was stellar in the final three innings without Davis. Ryan Madson needed six pitches to get through the seventh. One of Kelvin Herrera’s fastballs in the eighth hit 101 mph according the stadium scoreboard, and Holland looked like the best of his 2014 self in the ninth.
White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija retired the first nine Royals, but after falling behind 2-0, the Royals got going in the fourth.
Alcides Escobar dropped a single to center. Samardzija got ahead of the next two hitters, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain with 0-2 counts, but walked both.
Up stepped Eric Hosmer, who doesn’t have a grand slam among his 70 career home runs, and didn’t get one here.
But he produced a broken-bat floater that bounced in front of shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who got Cain at second on a behind-the-back flip. But Hosmer beat the relay and Escobar scored the Royals’ first run.
Kendrys Morales also hit a grounder to Ramirez, but with Hosmer running, Ramirez’s only play was at first.
Moustakas scored, and with all the action on the play moving toward second, nobody covered third. Homser kept running and reached easily. That allowed him to jog home when Salvador Perez poked a single to right.
The action carried into the fifth.
Jarrod Dyson, making his first start in left field since the Royals acquired Ben Zobrist, drove one between Adam Eaton in center and right fielder Avisail Garcia. The ball didn’t reach the warning track, but it didn’t’ have to for Dyson to reach third with his sixth triple this season.
Samardzija then hit Escobar. A razzing from the 39,302 — the 17th sellout and second largest crowd of the season at Kauffman Stadium who recalled the Opening Day beaning of Cain —but no warning was delivered by home plate umpire Laz Diaz.
The Royals kept rolling. Moustakas deep fly to right scored Dyson and Escobar moved to second. He took third on a wild pitch and scored on Cain’s single. Morales and Perez picked up RBI hits in the inning that ended with a 7-2 Royals edge.
But the White Sox came back with four in the sixth and Guthrie was chased. Luke Hochevar allowed two inherited runners to score, and the Royals would have to sweat out the victory.