CHICAGO -- Saturday's 5-4 White Sox victory over the Royals before 26,227 at U.S. Cellular Field shouldn't have been as difficult as it turned out to be for the American League Central leaders.
Addison Reed entered in the ninth inning to protect a three-run lead, and the White Sox closer -- who gave up Lorenzo Cain's game-winning two-run shot on Friday -- struck out Salvador Perez and retired Jeff Francoeur on a popout to catcher Tyler Flowers. Mike Moustakas followed with a low line drive to defensive replacement Jordan Danks, arguably the team's best defensive outfielder, but the left fielder lost the ball in the lights for a questionable double.
Instead of a perfect 1-2-3 inning, the Royals (62-77) had been given life. Before the final out was recorded, the tying run stood at second in the person of fleet-footed Jarrod Dyson and the winning run was at the plate in Cain.
Yes, the same Cain who crushed a hanging slider from Reed the previous night.
This battle went to the White Sox rookie, who picked up his 26th save and 11th in his last 12 chances by striking out Cain with a 93-mph fastball. All that mattered in the end was that the White Sox (75-63) broke a six-game losing streak to the Royals, ended the Royals' nine-game winning streak over the division's top two teams and reduced their magic number to 24, with the Tigers playing late Saturday night in Anaheim.
As is the mantra for any contender with 24 games remaining, getting the win is far more important than how it was achieved.
"It would be nice to make it a little easier on myself. But, at the end of the day, we got out of here with a win," said the eternally upbeat Reed, who has blown just four saves. "So we are all happy, and that's all we can ask."
"We were one swing away from, really, winning the ballgame -- in a game that we were never really in the whole game," said Royals manager Ned Yost, providing the viewpoint of a young team building for the future. "Just shows you the character of our young players."
Surviving these late-inning theatrics helped American League Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale improve to 16-6. Even more impressive than that Sale ledger is the first-year starter's 8-0 record with a 1.20 ERA in his last nine home starts, during which he's struck out 69 over 67 2/3 innings.
But the Sale working in the first three innings of Saturday's victory wasn't the efficient hurler who has produced a 2.88 ERA this season. Sale went to a 2-0 count against five straight batters in the first and second innings. In the third inning, he threw 29 pitches.
Then, something seemed to click. Sale needed just 13 pitches to get through the fourth, 12 to get through the fifth and 10 to finish off the sixth -- without allowing a baserunner in any of those innings.
"My first few innings were kind of erratic, all over the place and, honestly, just try to go out there and battle it out," Sale said. "Try to make pitches from there on out. It was just something I kind of had to find again and get back to where I was."
"Sale's an All-Star for a reason," Yost said. "He's legit."
That early wildness still only produced one walk, while Sale fanned six over six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced. He threw 101 pitches before manager Robin Ventura decided to go to Jesse Crain for the seventh.
"He worked so hard early on that we were feeling it was going to be six anyways," said Ventura of taking Sale out when he did. "Just how hard he had to go, how many pitches he threw through the first three innings."
Meanwhile, the White Sox were able to take down Bruce Chen (10-12). Their nemesis has posted a 5-1 record against the South Siders over the last two years, and had allowed five total runs over his previous five starts vs. the White Sox. They did so in the expected way: via the long ball.
Dayan Viciedo's two-out home run in the first inning was his 20th of the season, making the White Sox the only team in Major League Baseball to have five players with 20-plus homers this season, joining Adam Dunn (38), A.J. Pierzynski (25), Alex Rios (22) and Paul Konerko (22). The White Sox added a run in the third on an RBI double by Alexei Ramirez, then took control in the fourth on Tyler Flowers' two-run shot. Konerko added a solo blast leading off the sixth.
In their last 53 games, the White Sox have launched 78 homers -- and the three on Saturday ruined a game that saw Chen record his 1,000th career strikeout.
"I made two or three mistakes, and I paid for them," Chen said.
"Beating Chen, it really doesn't matter to us," Flowers said. "We're just glad to get the win out of this."
Kansas City's first run scored in the third and brought with it a bit of controversy, when Cain came home on Billy Butler's single to right. Rios' throw to Flowers appeared to beat Cain, with Flowers tagging Cain on the left thigh before he hit home plate.
Home-plate umpire Mark Carlson disagreed. Ventura argued the safe call, but it was bench coach Mark Parent who was eventually ejected by Carlson.
Luckily for the White Sox, it was the only reason to be angry after Reed's final punchout.
"In last couple of days, I've definitely aged about 10 years," a smiling Reed said. "Hopefully, I'll get younger in these next few."