The South Siders completed a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals with a 5-2 victory Wednesday, improving their record to 11-9. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians also are 11-9, creating a three-way tie atop the AL Central.
Sox left-hander Jose Quintana (1-4) finally got in the win column Wednesday, as he pitched six innings of two-run ball with a season-high 10 strikeouts. It easily was Quintana's best performance so far, as he entered the outing with an uncharacteristic 6.17 ERA and 5.69 FIP in his first four starts.
In fairness to Quintana, the Sox scored only four runs combined for him in those four games, so wins would have been hard to come by even if he had pitched well.
But Wednesday, the Sox handed him a 2-0 lead on RBI doubles from Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier in the first inning. The lead eventually slipped away as the Royals nicked Quintana for single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. With the scored tied at 2, it looked as if Quintana might be destined for a no-decision.
Alas, the Royals (7-14) are in a deep slump right now -- seven losses in a row -- and they seem to be inventing ways to lose games. A really, really bad pitch by Kansas City starter Nate Karns (0-2) allowed the Sox to grab the lead back in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Karns had been fooling the Sox's right-handed hitters all day with breaking balls in the dirt. Avisail Garcia was retired on pitches down and out of the zone in each of his first two at-bats Wednesday, and in his third at-bat, he swung and missed badly at a Karns breaking pitch that was down, outside and well out of the zone to open the sequence.
You got the feeling that Karns would retire Garcia again if he just stayed with his offspeed pitch. Instead, on the 0-1 count, he thought he'd go ahead and try to sneak a middle-in fastball past Garcia. The Sox right fielder was ready, and he clubbed the pitch 451 feet to center field for a two-run homer that put Chicago ahead, 4-2. Horrible pitch selection by Karns, and even worse execution.
Quintana's day was done after six innings, but he was then in line for the win. Leury Garcia's solo home run in the seventh made it 5-2, and four Sox relievers combined to throw three scoreless innings to put away the game.
David Robertson worked the ninth inning to earn his fifth save in five chances. His ERA is down to 1.17, for all those clubs out there who are in need of bullpen help. (I'm looking at you, Washington Nationals.)
The Sox probably won't stay in first for long. Thursday is an off day, while Detroit and Cleveland are both in action. At least one of them likely will win and drop the Sox down the standings, but it's nice to be at the top -- if only for a day -- during a rebuilding season.