The Thrill and the Agony

Royals jack up the Sox, 13-9

At the All-Star Break in mid-July, the Kansas City Royals were seven games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the race for first place of the American League Central Division. But over a series at the end of the month, the Royals extended a special hospitality to the visiting White Sox, allowing them over 30 total runs in three games and to sweep the series.

The tide was turning, and it seemed that the Sox were asserting themselves as the rightful league leaders, as pre-season pundits had predicted. With their undefeated star pitcher Jose Lima out of the line-up because of a groin injury, the Royals appeared to be on their way to passing the crown.

This week witnessed another series between the two teams.

With their lead reduced to a mere two games, the Royals were outspoken and determined not to slip any further. But in Monday’s game (the only one completed by press time), it first looked like they might. At the end of five innings, they trailed 6-3.

Suddenly in the top of the sixth, the Royals exploded, jacking seven runs off of relievers Scott Schoeneweis, Matt Ginter, and Kelly Wunsch to take a 10-6 lead. Chicago bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the inning, including Frank Thomas’s 2000th career hit, a 454-foot home run. Shortstop Jose Valentin added another run in the seventh inning, bringing the Sox to within one run.

But KC closer Al Levine pitched two solid innings – striking out three of the six batters he faced – and the Royals added another three runs in the ninth to seal the deal. The win ensures that the Royals will still be in first place when the series ends on Wednesday.

With only one batter each hitting above .300 (Royals, Carlos Beltran; White Sox, Magglio Ordonez), and rosters full of starting pitchers with mediocre ERAs, the ongoing struggle between these teams seems more about solid team play than shining individuals. Both teams seem very out-staffed when compared to some of the other teams in major league baseball that either could face in the playoffs.

But then again, baseball has always been about surprises.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org