KANSAS CITY -- Another series against the Royals, another series loss for the White Sox.
The White Sox jumped out to a three-run lead Thursday night but fell to the Royals for the 12th time this season with a 4-3 walk-off loss. Of the six series played this season between the two teams, the White Sox lost five.
The White Sox couldn't take advantage of Oakland's 12-4 defeat of the Tigers earlier in the day and saw their lead in the American League Central remain at two games.
With the game knotted at 3 in the bottom of the ninth, Billy Butler led off with a sharp single to center off Chicago reliever Jesse Crain. Butler was replaced by pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, who stole second with two outs. Jeff Francoeur was then intentionally walked to bring up Eric Hosmer. Matt Thornton entered the game and gave up a base hit down the third-base line to score Dyson and give the Royals a walk-off win.
"Enough for him to put a bat on," Thornton said of the game's final pitch. "Bad pitch in that situation, 0-2. If he can put a bat on it, it's not a good pitch. I'm looking to strike him out right there. I was ahead 0-2. Didn't get the job done. Lost the game."
But after the game, the talk didn't center on the ninth-inning, but rather the same thing the discussion focused on the night before: missed opportunities.
The White Sox scored three runs in the first two innings against Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher they'd mustered just two unearned runs against in three previous matchups this season. A.J. Pierzynski singled in the game's first run in the first inning, and the White Sox used a Guthrie error to tack on two more unearned tallies in the second.
But it was the inability to add on that had the White Sox shaking their heads.
"There's definitely some runs we left out there," third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "It's one of things where if we keep emphasizing and keep talking about it, guys are going to panic and think too much. You've got to get it off your mind and just play the game and not worry about it. ... I think our focus should be just having good at-bats and not worry about driving guys in but having good approaches. And that usually will pay off in the end."
Alex Rios led off the third inning with a double and advanced to third on a groundout. When a Guthrie pitch snuck through the legs of catcher Salvador Perez, Rios broke for home. However, he hesitated slightly. Perez got to the ball, which didn't roll too far away and flipped to Guthrie for an easy out at home.
What began as a man at third with one out was suddenly bases empty with two outs.
"In that situation, I had to know that there was just one out," Rios said. "With anything, I could have scored, with a fly ball or anything. It was one of those where you hesitate and you don't get a good read, and bad stuff happens when you do that. That's what happened."
"The ball kind of gets halfway away. Alex thinks he can go and then hesitates," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "That one's kind of an instinct. You should go or stay. It's little things like that that we've just got to stop doing."
An inning later, the White Sox put the first two batters on base. Alexei Ramirez tagged and went to third on a fly out, and Chicago had runners at the corners with only one out. But, Royals catcher Salvador Perez picked Ramirez off third base during Dewayne Wise's at-bat, radically changing the inning and the game.
"I don't know if there's quicksand over at third," Ventura said. "We seem to lose a few guys over there."
Chances were few and far between following those outs on the bases. Guthrie turned back into the same pitcher who quieted the White Sox earlier in the year, retiring six of the next seven batters he faced after the fourth. Then the Royals' bullpen set down nine of the last 10 hitters.
"You just have opportunities you don't take advantage of, and eventually a team like this is going to come back and get you," Ventura said.
Early on, it looked as if White Sox starter Francisco Liriano was en route to his finest performance since joining the White Sox. He allowed just one hit through four shutout innings before getting into trouble. Two runs scored on a two-out triple off the bat of Johnny Giavotella in the fifth inning. Then, in the sixth, Alex Gordon singled with one out to chase Liriano from the game. Butler crushed a double off the wall against reliever Nate Jones and Gordon scored to tie the game at 3.
Liriano surrendered the three runs on just four hits in 5 1/3 innings. It was the fourth time in his last five starts in which he didn't make out of the sixth inning.
The White Sox finished the season series against Kansas City with a 6-12 record. They're 32-40 against the Royals in the past four seasons. But now, they'll become some of the Royals' biggest fans. Kansas City has seven games remaining against the Tigers.
"They're a tough team. They pitched the ball pretty well and get timely hitting against us. They've had our number recently and it's not a good time to have that," Youkilis said. "But hopefully they can get really hot. They play Detroit for seven games, so hopefully they can beat them in their series."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.