The cure for an inconsistent Kansas City Royals offense was apparently to put it up against the most dominant pitcher in the American League through the first month and a half of the season.
It also didn’t hurt that the Royals got a fairly dominant pitching performance of their own.
White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón came into the day leading MLB in ERA (0.58), opponent’s batting average (.114), opponent’s slugging percentage (.162) and opponent’s OPS (.367). He’d given up three runs all season.
However, the Royals got to Rodón for four runs in 5 2/3 innings, including a three-run home run courtesy of catcher Salvador Perez on the way to a 5-1 win in the third game of the four-game set in front of an announced 9,886 at Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday night.
The Royals (18-21) secured at least a split of the series, and they can earn a series victory with a win on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Royals starting pitcher Mike Minor turned in his best start of season. He allowed just one run on two hits (one infield single) in a season-high seven innings, and he struck out seven.
“Mike Minor was special tonight, his best fastball,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He had a real nice game plan and executed it very well. His fastball made his changeup extremely effective. I thought he was smart when he used the breaking ball. The slider-cutter in gave him space. It’s hard to ask much more.”
Minor retired 10 of the first 12 batters he faced. He issued two walks in that stretch. The one run he allowed came on a solo homer by Jose Abreu.
Minor and Matheny both lauded the defensive plays made in the field by the Royals. Jarrod Dyson made a pair of diving catches in left field, including one in the seventh inning.
Hanser Alberto made a crucial play to snag a grounder at second base to end the eighth with Scott Barlow pitching. The White Sox had two men on and Abreu on deck.
“I felt like I was in control all night,” Minor said. “Salvy called a good game. Dyson picked me up a couple times. The defense played well behind me. I felt like we had a good game plan. We stuck with it. I felt like they were off-balance all night.”
The Royals’ Whit Merrifield went 2 for 5 with two doubles and two runs scored, while Carlos Santana went 2 for 3 with a home run, two walks and two runs scored.
Santana has now homered in back-to-back games. Perez, who came out of the game with groin tightness after the seventh inning, has homered in two of his last three games. Perez expressed optimism after the game that he could be back in the lineup on Sunday.
Since the American League began tracking earned runs in 1913, Rodón’s 0.58 ERA was the lowest by a White Sox pitcher over his first five starts of a season. He didn’t allow an earned run through his first 16 innings of the season.
He came within one pitch — it hit a batter on the foot — of a perfect game and settled for a no-hitter, earlier this season.
His last start came against the Royals on May 7, and he retired 10 of the first 11 batters, including five strikeouts, and tossed six scoreless innings. He didn’t allow a runner to reach third base with just one having made it as far as second in that game.
“We had just seen him, so we were pretty familiar with his stuff and did a pretty good job of capitalizing on pitches in the zone,” Merrifield said. “Except for Salvy. I just told him I just saw the replay and I’m not sure how he hit that ball out. But (Rodón) was fresh in our head from seeing him a week ago.”
None of that seemed to matter when Merrifield crushed the third pitch of the game off the left field wall for a double. He missed a home run by a few feet, but set the tone for a Royals offense that had struggled recently.
After Santana walked and he and Merrifield executed a double steal, the Royals had runners on second and third with no outs. Jorge Soler’s one-out RBI single gave them an early 1-0 advantage.
Rodón minimized the damage with back-to-back strikeouts of Kelvin Gutierrez and Michael A. Taylor to strand two runners and hold the Royals to one run, but the Royals had built a little momentum that carried over a few innings later.
“I always feel a little bit of pressure every time I lead off the game to do something positive to set the tone for our team,” Merrifield said. “We did a good job of that today.”
They went back to a similar formula in the third inning with a Merrifield double, this time deflected off the glove of third baseman Yoan Moncada, setting the table. Rodón had allowed just two doubles in his first five starts, but Merrifield hit two in the first three innings.
After Merrifield’s second double, Santana walked again to put two men on base in front of Perez.
The previous at-bat with two on, Perez struck out swinging. This time, Perez reached out and swatted a fastball high and outside over the right field wall for a three-run home run. The blast gave the Royals a 4-0 lead.
“If I tell you guys I was looking for that pitch, you guys aren’t going to believe me,” Perez said. “I just see the ball and hit the ball. I see it high and let it fly. Haha.”
That home run also pushed Perez past Royals Hall of Famer Frank White (160) into sole possession of sixth place on the franchise’s all-time home run list.
The Royals, leading 4-1, tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth when Santana hit a one-out solo homer to right field.