Kansas City Royals veteran pitcher Zack Greinke shut down the Chicago White Sox offense for more than six innings, and the offense scratched out enough against White Sox ace Dylan Cease and the White Sox’ bullpen to secure their second consecutive series victory of the homestand.
Cease entered the day with a 1.98 ERA and 12 wins under his belt this season, but he’d been even more dominant of late. In his previous 13 starts, he’d allowed one run or fewer, a major-league record for non-openers.
Still, Greinke set the tone and held the White Sox off until the Royals bats came through in a 5-3 win in front of an announced 10,009 at Kauffman Stadium for the finale of a four-game set on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s unbelievable. I feel like every single day you see pitchers throwing 98-100 or 95-plus, that’s the norm now,” Royals infielder Nicky Lopez said. “To see a guy who has played 18 years in the big leagues still doing it with 90 miles per hour, mixing, matching, keeping them off kilter, it’s pretty special to be able to play behind him.”
The Royals (47-66) won back-to-back series for the first time since July 8-13, and they have won consecutive four-game series for the first time in eight years. The last time they accomplished that feat came on August 11-18, 2014.
“That was a great year for the Royals,” Lopez said, referencing the AL pennant-winning club in 2014 that went to Game 7 of the World Series. “If we can just emulate stuff like that, keep the fans engaged, keep the fans happy, kind of them looking forward, create some excitement in the ballpark, that’s what we’re trying to do. I think right now, we’re trending in the right direction.”
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First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino (1 for 2, walk) homered for the third time in four games for the Royals to give them their only run against Cease.
Bobby Witt Jr., who came off the bench, had a hit, stole a base and scored twice.
Greinke (4-7) was undoubtedly the star of the day with 6 1/3 scoreless innings, his longest outing of the season. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.
“You usually don’t pay attention too much to who you’re facing, but with how good he’s pitching you kind of knew it was going to be a tough game,” Greinke said of Cease.
Most impressively, Greinke pulled a Harry Houdini-type harrowing escape in the third inning.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a pitcher put on a display of making tough pitches in a bigger spot than what he did right there with who was coming up, where they were in their lineup, and how he just found a different level,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said.
Three straight singles to start the third inning seemingly put the White Sox (56-56) in position to, at least, get on the board and, at best, break open the game and Greinke on the ropes.
Neither of those things happened.
Instead, Greinke retired the third, fourth and fifth hitters in the White Sox lineup, including former AL MVP Jose Abreu. He started with a pair of strikeouts against Eloy Jimenez and Abreu, both swinging.
Then Greinke bounced back from a 3-0 count against White Sox slugger Yasmandi Grandal to work a full count and then got an inning-ending ground ball to shortstop to leave the White Sox scoreless and with the wind taken out of their sails.
“That time, I was just trying to get an out and didn’t really care about groundball or not,” Greinke said of facing that jam. “... That time I was just trying to get one out at a time.”
Greinke gave up six hits in the first three innings, and the White Sox had nothing to show for it. Stranding three men on base in the third only punctuated his early brilliance.
“That’s an opportunity for us to fold a little bit, a bloop happens, something else happens,” Pasquantino said. “But no, he shuts the door. He strikes out the first two guys. He gets 3-0 and then gets the last out.
“That’s something that builds confidence too, working out of jams. Everything is not always easy. So when you see a guy who is that established, who has that many years in the big leagues showing, ‘Hey, yeah I’m in a jam. I’ll just get out of it.’ That builds confidence for everyone around. … You see that happen and everybody wants to win for that guy. So it was a really special day today.”
Greinke allowed just three hits in the next 3 1/3 innings, and he finished the day having not allowed a run. He also recorded his 553rd strikeout at Kauffman Stadium and tied Bret Saberhagen for the fourth-most strikeouts by a pitcher at the ballpark.
Pasquantino had given the Royals an early 1-0 advantage with a solo home run into the bullpen beyond the right field fence in the second inning. That also gave Royals rookie hitters 11 home runs in 11 games since the start of August.
Pasquantino’s blast stood as the game’s only run until Lopez lined a two-run single to center with one out in the seventh for his 100th and 101st RBIs of his career. Melendez followed with a two-out RBI single to make it 4-0.
The White Sox scored two in the top of the eighth to make it a two-run game, but Taylor hit an RBI single in the eighth and gave the Royals their fifth run. Andrew Vaughn’s solo home run in the ninth closed the scoring.
Royals reliever Scott Barlow gave up that homer, but earned his 18th save in 21 opportunities this season.
Dodgers invade The K
The Royals conclude their 11-game homestand in a three-game weekend series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered Thursday with more wins (77) and a higher winning percentage (.700) than any club in the majors.
“Obviously, we have one of the best teams in baseball coming into town tomorrow night,” Pasquantino said. “It’s not going to be something where we’re going to be intimidated because the Dodgers are coming to town. We’re ready to play them. I’m not guaranteeing a win or anything like that. I am going to guarantee tough games and that we’re going to go and compete our tails off for three games and see what happens.”