KANSAS CITY -- Left-hander Chris Sale demonstrated to the Royals that his successful first half was as good as advertised.
Sale bested Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza in a tight duel on Sunday, pitching the Chicago White Sox to a 2-1 victory on a sunny, 94-degree afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. With 25,714 fans in the stands, the American League Central-leading White Sox won the series, two games to one.
The Royals defeated Sale on May 12 at Chicago, but that was just one of two losses the 6-foot-6 lefty has had in his All-Star season. Now he's 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA.
This was just the second time the Royals had seen Sale in a starting role. Before he'd always come out of the bullpen to face them.
"You'd rather face him when he's in the 'pen, because you know you're going to get 98, 99 (mph)," the Royals' Jeff Francoeur said. "[Starting] he throws that fastball anywhere from 86 to 94, 95, and he kept us all off-balance today and threw well."
Adam Dunn, making it a habit, belted his third homer in three games here in the White Sox first inning. This one was a sizzling drive into the right-field seats down the line with the bases empty, his 28th homer this season and the 393rd of his career.
What proved to be the decisive run off Mendoza came in the second inning, but it could've easily been worse because the White Sox loaded the bases with none out. Alex Rios singled, A.J. Pierzysnki was hit by a pitch and Dayan Viciedo got an infield single.
But Mike Moustakas snared Alexei Ramirez's hot smash, stepped on third base for one out and fired across the diamond to Billy Butler for a double play. Rios scored on the play, but that was all the White Sox got because Gordon Beckham popped out.
"Mendoza did a great job. He had the one inning where he loaded the bases with a broken-bat infield hit and then Moose really picked us up with a tremendous defensive play to hold 'em to one run," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It was the run that ended up beating us, but Sale showed why he was an All-Star. He threw the ball really well, but Mendoza almost matched him."
Sale held off the Royals for four innings but, in the fifth, they finally got a run. Moustakas singled to right, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Chris Getz's looping single to left. In all, the Royals got 10 hits off Sale -- but no walks.
"They can hit," Sale said. "Game would have been a heck of a lot different without the defense making some great plays, unbelievable plays. Some balls that were hit real hard, they got tracked down and hit right at guys."
Mendoza was lifted after retiring the first batter in the eighth inning with Dunn, the left-handed slugger, coming to bat. Lefty Jose Mijares came on and struck out Dunn. Right-hander Kelvin Herrera replaced Mijares and, after a hit batter and an infield single, ended the inning.
In 7 1/3 innings, Mendoza gave up two runs on four hits, walked four and struck out six. In his last three starts, Mendoza is 1-2, but has given up just five earned runs in 21 1/3 innings for a 2.11 ERA.
"He's just pitching well," Yost said. "He's not figuring anything out he really didn't know. He was Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year last year. That's Triple-A, but still that's a hitters' league and hitters' parks, and he was the best pitcher in the league last year. He's just settled in, he's on the attack, he's keeping his pitch count down so he can go deep in the games, he's using his breaking ball, has good action on his two-seamer and his four-seamer has been very effective for him."
Sale survived an eighth-inning Royals bid for a rally after Alcides Escobar and Butler each singled.
Lorenzo Cain came up and was 2-for-3 in his earlier at-bats against Sale, so Yost decided against ordering a sacrifice bunt. Cain ripped a line drive but right at left fielder Viciedo.
"He's hitting the ball so well we gave him the opportunity and he hit a laser to left, so we're not getting much on the break side for us," Yost said.
Yuniesky Betancourt tapped right back to Sale, who started an inning-ending double play and that was the last of his 115 pitches. Rookie closer Addison Reed pitched the ninth and got his 14th save.
Cain, playing just his third game since returning from the disabled list, banged his left hip into the center-field wall in the ninth inning as he caught Alejandro De Aza's smash. That was the injured leg that put Cain on the DL but he was OK.
"I feel pretty good right now. I run into the wall and that's what I do. I try to catch everything out there," Cain said.
The White Sox won a series at Kauffman Stadium for the first time since a three-game sweep in May 2009. Since then, the White Sox are 10-15 in Kansas City.
"We were talking about that," Pierzynski said. "We were like, 'Man that seems like a long time.' Then when you thought about it and I watched the ninth inning, all their highlight videos are of them walking us off. Seems about right."
Both losses in this series were by one run and left the Royals 10 1/2 games behind Chicago in the AL Central standings.
"Obviously, it's tough," Francoeur said. "They're the team we're chasing and you start running out of games to play against them. We still have 12 games against them, but you've got to find a way to take two out of three or sweep at some point."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.