KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bruce Chen had already pitched out of trouble each of the first three innings when the Royals left-hander issued a pair of walks and served up a base hit to Alex Rios in the fourth.
The bases were loaded, there was nobody out and the White Sox — one of the hottest teams in baseball and winners of five straight — were poised to deliver the crushing blow.
It never happened.
Never even came close.
Chen managed to retire three straight batters without a ball getting out of the infield, and then carried on into the seventh inning. Billy Butler's sacrifice fly and a two-run double by Alex Gordon was enough to give the Royals a 3-0 victory over the AL Central leaders Wednesday night.
"Bruce Chen was right on top of his game," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I told him after he was done, 'You did a great job of pitching yourself into trouble in the fourth inning and even a better job of pitching yourself out of it.' Bruce did a phenomenal job."
Chen (11-12) scattered five hits and three walks over 6 2-3 innings to win for just the second time in six starts. The crafty veteran also stranded a runner on second in the sixth before getting some help from reliever Kelvin Herrera to escape more trouble in the seventh.
Herrera then pitched around two base runners in the eighth, and Greg Holland yielded a two-out double in the ninth before finishing for his 14th save in 17 chances.
"We didn't panic," Chen said. "We stuck to our game plan."
Alcides Escobar finished with three hits, all of them off Chicago ace Chris Sale (17-7), and the Royals who staved off official elimination for one more day. The White Sox (81-67) had their lead in the division trimmed to two games over the Detroit Tigers.
"This one stinks and you have to move on," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
Chicago will be happy to move on from playing the Royals and start rooting for them.
Kansas City improved to 8-2 in their last 10 meetings by evening the three-game series, and a win in the finale Thursday night would make the Royals 6-1 in the teams' last seven series.
They could become Chicago's biggest ally down the stretch, though. Kansas City plays seven of its final 13 games against second-place Detroit, beginning with a four-game series Monday.