White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel was in such a groove Sunday against the Royals that he was aiming for a rare complete game after five innings — he had thrown just 49 pitches and allowed just two hits.
But on the 49th pitch, Keuchel aggravated a chronic back issue snaring Cam Gallagher’s come-backer, and it turned into the beginning of the end. Keuchel warmed up before the sixth inning but couldn’t loosen up his back and took himself out with a two-run lead.
It looked like a tough break for the Sox — and still could be if Keuchel’s back continues to be a problem. But on this day, the Sox barely blinked. Edwin Encarnacion cranked a three-run homer to deep left field in the seventh inning, and the Sox scored three more runs in the eighth to cruise to an 8-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
Jose Abreu extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a seventh-inning single that preceded Encarnacion’s big blast as the Sox (26-15) swept the four-game series with the Royals and won for the 16th time in 20 games to maintain a half-game lead over the Indians (25-15) and move 1½ games ahead of the Twins (25-17) in the American League Central.
Manager Rick Renteria said Keuchel has been managing the back issue all season and Sunday’s episode was not any worse than before. Keuchel is hopeful he will make his next start Saturday against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It pops up every once in a while,” Keuchel said. “Up to that point where it kind of grabbed, I felt really good. The four days leading up to it, after my stomach thing [in his previous start], I don’t know if I had felt better in a long, long time.
“Just kind of weird how these things work out. Hopefully [Monday] I can wake up and maybe it’ll be a little sore, but knowing that I have an off day [Monday] and not pitch until Saturday, hopefully it’ll work out.”
Renteria is not overly concerned. But the Sox need a healthy and available Keuchel. The starters have pitched into the seventh inning only eight times all season — Keuchel (three) and Lucas Giolito (four) have seven of them.
For what it’s worth, the Sox’ luck has been running pretty good lately. Last week, they parlayed a dropped fly ball by Max Kepler into a tie-breaking, three-run ninth to beat the Twins. On Sunday, they might have gotten a break when a replay challenge by the Royals upheld an out call on Adalberto Mondesi at the plate in the third inning that otherwise would have tied the score 1-1.
That left the Royals unable to challenge a close play at first in the fourth — on a great stretch by Abreu — that likely would have been overturned and again scored the tying run.
The Sox are on that kind of a roll. After Keuchel left with a 2-0 lead, Encarnacion hit the three-run homer for a 5-0 lead. When Edward Olivares greeted reliever Steve Cishek with a two-run homer in the seventh, Yasmani Grandal, Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez had RBI hits to give the bullpen more breathing room with an 8-2 lead. That’s the kind of timing that carries winning teams a long way.
“Absolutely,” Renteria said. “Right now you don’t see me jumping for joy — and I’m trying to contain myself that we were able to do that. We needed it. Marsh [Evan Marshall] did a nice job shutting it down, and we were able to transition a bit. It helped us immensely. It was a big boost.”