KANSAS CITY -- Pitcher Jesse Crain and pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson played a game of catch-me-if-you-can. In the end, Dyson won and so did the Royals.
Dyson stole a base, then streaked home on Eric Hosmer's two-out single in the ninth inning for a walk-off, 4-3 victory over the first-place Chicago White Sox on Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium.
It was one last lick on the White Sox by the Royals, who dominated the American League Central leaders by winning the season series, 12-6. The Royals took this series, two games to one, to hold the White Sox lead over second-place Detroit at two games.
"They're a tough team," White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis said of the Royals. "They've had our number recently and it's not a good time to have that. But hopefully they can get really hot. They play Detroit for seven games, so hopefully they can beat them in their series."
The crowd of 14,710 at Kauffman Stadium witnessed some intense cat-and-mouse action in the ninth after Billy Butler singled off Crain. Dyson, restricted to pinch-running by a back strain, trotted out to run for Butler.
"I faced Crain a lot so I know what he's coming with," Butler said. "He's a real tough pitcher, one of the toughest right-handers in the league for me (4-for-17). He just got a pitch out over the plate and [we] got Dice in the game."
With Salvador Perez at the plate, Crain made five pick-off attempts on Dyson and catcher A.J. Pierzynski also called for a pitch-out.
"I've always got confidence in myself. It was pretty close, but he had a good move," Dyson said. "I knew I was in his head when I saw him picking over so many times and at that point in the game, he knew I was going at some point. So he's got to do his job and try to shut me down and I've got do my job and try to get to second."
Perez finally flied to right field for the first out and Dyson was still parked at first. Crain kept him diving back into the bag.
"His move was extremely quick to first, border-line quick, but Dice did a great job of just waiting it out, picking his spot and finally getting the job done," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Because you can get picked off real easy in that situation. He was trying to go and that's the thing about Dice -- Jarrod Dyson is not afraid. Great basestealers have larceny in their blood; they want to steal the base."
Mike Moustakas struck out as Crain made three more pickoff attempts. On the first pitch to Jeff Francoeur, Dyson headed off to second base, just beating Pierzynski's throw.
"I ended up getting the bag and it was probably one of the hardest bags I've got this year," Dyson said.
With first base open, the White Sox intentionally walked Francoeur to bring up Hosmer. To counter his left-handed bat, they brought in lefty Matt Thornton, who had handled Hosmer well in the past (1-for-9 with six strikeouts). And Thornton put Hosmer in an 0-2 hole.
"[White Sox starting pitcher Francisco] Liriano early on in the night was beating me in with a couple of fastballs, so I had a pretty good feeling that A.J. was going to go back to that and I was just trying to shorten up, put the ball in play and let Dyson's legs do the rest," Hosmer said.
That he did, spanking a sharp ground ball past third base and into left field to end the game.
"Bad pitch in that situation, 0-2," Thornton said. "If he can put a bat on it, it's not a good pitch. I'm looking to strike him out right there. Didn't get the job done. Lost the game."
Hosmer was engulfed by teammates in the middle of the field, celebrating the Royals' seventh walk-off win.
This evening started grimly for Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, who had pitched 23 2/3 consecutive innings against the White Sox without being charged with an earned run. That streak ended with a first-inning run. There were two more runs in the second inning, both unearned because of Guthrie's own error on a wild throw.
So it was 3-0, but Guthrie managed to hold it there. After Guthrie threw a pitch past Perez in the third inning, the catcher quickly recovered and threw out Alex Rios trying to score. In the fourth, Alexei Ramirez was on third base and Perez picked him off with a snap throw to Moustakas.
That gave Perez five pickoffs this year, the Major League high, and eight for his career, already a Royals record. Darrell Porter picked off seven runners in a 492-game span in 1977-80. Perez has nailed his eight runners in just 104 games.
"Guthrie ended up getting through the inning and walked by and said, 'I'm good, I'll get through this,'" Yost said. "And he did."
Johnny Giavotella's two-run triple with two outs in the fifth against Liriano finally got the Royals in gear.
"It really turned things around. We were doing absolutely nothing to that point and Gio's triple gave us some life," Yost said.
In the sixth, Alex Gordon's single ended Liriano's evening and right-hander Nate Jones was brought in to face Butler. In four previous confrontations, Butler had struck out three times but also hit a two-run homer. This time Butler belted a drive off the center-field wall for a double that scored Gordon with the tying run.
"I can't hit a ball any better than I did to center," Butler said.
Then things went on hold until his ninth-inning single and Dyson's entrance onto the field.
"I'm in the game for one reason and that's to score," Dyson said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.