The first half of this game was a pitchers' duel.
The second half of this game was a standoff.
In a departure from previous seasons, the White Sox held their ground, and the Royals blinked. A dominant Chris Sale prevailed over James Shields with the help of a late-charging offense and some uncharacteristic (and formerly very characteristic) Kansas City play.
Sale threw eight scoreless innings, limiting the Royals to four singles and a walk while striking out six. He also defended one teammate with a series of inside pitches that changed the tone of the game entirely in the sixth.
In the top of the inning, Jose Abreu took a fastball square on the elbow for the second straight game, courtesy of a Shields fastball. Starting the bottom of the frame, Sale knocked Omar Infante off the plate with his first pitch. And his second pitch.
Infante sensed something was up, and he bailed out of the batter's box as Sale threw a third consecutive inside pitch. That prompted warnings from home plate umpire Greg Gibson, but Infante was skeptical. When Sale threw a 3-0 fastball down the middle for strike zone, Infante didn't see it, because he backed out of the batter's box once again.
We might be questioning the wisdom of such a move if Sale didn't come back to get Infante on a groundout, because we've seen what happens when the White Sox put a leadoff runner on base -- and this game was still scoreless. Sale kept his composure after the warnings. Sale kept his composure after Conor Gillaspie bounced a throw to allow Danny Valencia to reach. Sale kept his composure after an apparent double play was limited to one out. Sale kept his composure after the play was upheld on Robin Ventura's first challenge, despite video evidence to the contrary.
And Sale didn't need to keep his composure against Billy Butler, because Tyler Flowers gunned down Eric Hosmer at second to end the inning.
Shields wasn't so fortunate. Gillaspie stung him for a one-out double in the seventh, moved to third on an Avisail Garcia swinging bunt, and came home when Alexei Ramirez's hard grounder up the middle escaped the grasp of Alcides Escobar for an RBI infield single, putting the first run on the board.
Sale made that one run hold up through eight innings, and he was a candidate to return to the mound on 110 pitches. Then the White Sox scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, and Sale's services were no longer needed.
The Sox jeopardized their own rally when Gillaspie popped a bunt straight up with two on and nobody out, but pinch-running Leury Garcia forced the issue by stealing third, and Salvador Perez's strange side-armed throw went for a classic single through the left side instead, bringing Garcia home for a key insurance run.
An Avisail Garcia walk, a Ramirez double and a two-run Flowers single later, the Sox held a 5-0 lead. Lindstrom made it interesting in the ninth, but had the Sox converted the first double-play ball Lindstrom threw, they probably could have preserved the shutout.
*Abreu had an interesting day around first. He missed one scoop, couldn't catch another low throw (and ended up in the splits), and when he was running out a grounder, he stepped on Hosmer's ankle.
*Ramirez made an ill-advised attempt to get a force out at second on an Infante infield single and threw the ball into right field, which put runners on the corners with two outs in the third inning. Sale got Danny Valencia to pop out to kill the threat.
*Avisail Garcia ended the fourth inning with a diving catch on a sinking Alex Gordon liner, holding onto the ball after smacking the turf with his face. He remained on the ground for a moment, then jogged back to the dugout.
20 of 34 #WhiteSox runs this season have come in 6th inning or later.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 6, 2014