The surprise leaders of the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox know they will be tested right out of the All-Star break.
Hoping to end their recent struggles in Kansas City, the White Sox open a 10-game trip Friday night looking to hand the Royals a fourth consecutive defeat.
After finishing 79-83 in 2011, Chicago (47-38) has benefited from the resurgence of two veterans and first-year manager Robin Ventura 's calm approach to hold a three-game division lead over Cleveland. The White Sox have won 11 of 15, including a split of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium and a home sweep of AL West-leading Texas.
"You feel you can play with anybody," Ventura said. "How it ends up, nobody knows that. You can control your effort."
Chicago will need to give a maximum effort this weekend in Kansas City, where it has lost 14 of 20 and not won a series since July 2-4, 2009. Things don't get easier with stops in Boston and Detroit for the White Sox, who are 23-16 on the road and play 16 of 19 after the break away from home.
"We've played pretty well on the road this year. We'll just take it as it comes," said All-Star Paul Konerko , who flirted with .400 in May but has batted .228 with one homer in his last 15 games.
Adam Dunn earned an All-Star nod by hitting 25 home runs, 14 more than all of 2011, and teammate Alex Rios is batting .318 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in 83 games after hitting .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs a year ago.
Chicago also has benefited from the recent acquisition of Kevin Youkilis , batting .347 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 13 games with his new team.
Scheduled starter Jose Quintana (4-1, 2.04 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise during the first 10 appearances - eight starts - of his career.
The left-hander threw eight scoreless innings in back-to-back starts before allowing six runs in six innings of a 14-7 win at New York on June 29. He followed that outing by yielding a run and two hits while striking out a career-high eight over eight innings in a 2-1 win over the Rangers on July 5.
"He has a great feel on the mound, great stuff," Ventura said.
This will be his first appearance against the Royals (37-47), who won two of three at Chicago earlier this season and will try for a fourth consecutive home victory overall Friday.
Kansas City, however, entered the break having been swept by Detroit to conclude a 3-8 trip.
"Definitely not the way we figure it would be," manager Ned Yost told the Royals' official website.
With 16 home runs and 52 RBIs, Billy Butler was Kansas City's lone All-Star in its home park. Though he went 2 for 12 with five strikeouts at Chicago in May, Butler has hit .352 with six homers and 26 RBIs in his last 31 games against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Scheduled starter Bruce Chen (7-8, 5.22) has given up 12 runs and four homers in nine innings while losing his last two starts. He allowed six runs in 3 1-3 innings of an 8-7 defeat at Detroit on Saturday.
Chen, however, is 3-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his last six starts versus Chicago.
All-Star snub A.J. Pierzynski is batting .407 (11 for 27) with two homers off Chen. Rios is 4 for 30 (.133) with eight strikeouts against the left-hander while Konerko is 7 for 30 with three home runs.
|Chicago White Sox|
|June 29, 2012||Kevin Youkilis||Day-to-Day||Left game - upset stomach|
|June 25, 2012||Brian Bruney||15-Day DL||Left hip inflammation|
|June 24, 2012||Jesse Crain||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 17, 2012||Philip Humber||15-Day DL||Right elbow flexor strain|
|June 13, 2012||Adam Dunn||Day-to-Day||Sprained ankle|
|June 04, 2012||Kosuke Fukudome||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|Kansas City Royals|
|July 05, 2012||Luke Hochevar||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
|June 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Lateral strain in lower left leg|
|June 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Lateral strain in lower left leg|
|June 07, 2012||Felipe Paulino||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|May 26, 2012||Jarrod Dyson||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right hamstring injury|
|May 22, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Left ribcage contusion|
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- There was nobody White Sox manager Robin Ventura would rather have had at the plate with runners on the corners in the 14th inning than his gritty new third baseman.
Kevin Youkilis hit a sacrifice fly on the 14th pitch of his marathon at-bat, scoring Gordon Beckham and giving Chicago a 9-8 victory over the Kansas City Royals in a game that stretched into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
"At some point you figure he's battling enough that he's going to be able to win that," Ventura said of Youkilis, who arrived in a trade with the Red Sox late last month. "He's the guy you want to have up there in that situation."
Youkilis earned the praise, but it was Beckham who got the winning rally going.
He drew a one-out walk off Everett Teaford (1-3), and Alejandro De Aza sent a single down the third-base line to put runners on the corners for Youkilis, who muscled a fly ball deep to center for what turned out to be his fifth game-winning hit in 14 games with the White Sox.
"We just kept battling back, and it was a pretty unbelievable game," Beckham said. "There were so many times I could see that game being over, but it just kept going."
Dylan Axelrod (1-2) worked around trouble in the 13th for Chicago, and then retired the side in the 14th to end a game that lasted 5 hours, 23 minutes.
Both teams had chances to end it much earlier. Royals closer Jonathan Broxton blew a save in the ninth inning and White Sox closer Addison Reed did the same in the 12th.
"The offense did a great job of battling back. We had a couple of situations to put it away, but didn't," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Both teams burned through nine pitchers, setting a franchise record for the Royals. Teaford was scheduled to start Tuesday night before being pressed into relief duty.
The game also came close to ending in the 13th inning, when Chicago's Dayan Viciedo earned a walk from Tim Collins , and Beckham doubled to score pinch-runner Jordan Danks from second base.
Jeff Francoeur answered with a double of his own leading off the bottom of the inning, and after Brayan Pena grounded out, Lorenzo Cain singled to put runners on the corners. Alex Gordon sent a chopper up the middle that scored Francoeur and kept the game alive.
Of course, that was a microcosm of the entire back-and-forth affair.
Adam Dunn and Alex Rios homered to give Chicago a 3-0 lead in the first inning, Mike Moustakas homered to help the Royals score three times in the second, and Kansas City added two more runs in the fourth - one coming on a homer by Francoeur down the third-base line.
The White Sox charged back in the fifth. Dunn and A.J. Pierzynski singled off Royals starter Bruce Chen , and Viciedo connected for a three-run homer and a 6-5 lead.
The Royals were down to their final out in the eighth inning when Cain doubled and Gordon walked. Alcides Escobar came through with a clutch two-run triple.
Broxton, who seems to make every outing an adventure, gave up a single to Youkilis to start the ninth. Dunn and Paul Konerko walked to load the bases with no outs, and after Rios flied out to center, Pierzynski sent an RBI single to right field.
Francoeur came up throwing as pinch-runner Orlando Hudson tried to score. The throw was well up the first-base line, but it arrived in plenty of time for catcher Salvador Perez to lunge back across home and make the tag - even though replays showed that Hudson may have been safe.
Ventura argued to no avail with plate umpire Chris Guccione.
The Royals put a runner aboard with one out in the 10th and couldn't get him home, and loaded the bases with one out in the 11th before Yuniesky Betancourt popped out and Moustakas grounded out to shortstop to keep the game going well into the night.
"It was crazy. You go back and forth, one team goes ahead, the other team goes ahead," Ventura said. "You don't necessarily expect that, but it happens."
NOTES: The White Sox recalled RHP Jhan Marinez from Triple-A Charlotte. He took the roster spot of RHP Deunte Heath , who was optioned to Charlotte last Sunday. Marinez was among the players obtained from the Marlins for manager Ozzie Guillen . ... RHP Luke Hochevar starts Saturday for the Royals against Chicago RHP Jake Peavy .