CHICAGO — They sought a complete performance on Saturday night. A solid performance from a starter. A clean night from the bullpen. Enough offense to snap a five-game losing streak.
There was some of that here at Guaranteed Rate Field. It was not perfection. The Royals will settle for it, nonetheless.
Melky Cabrera, the former White Sox outfielder and fan favorite, clubbed a two-run homer in the top of the eighth, rescuing the Royals from another bullpen stumble and delivering a 5-4 victory on the South side of Chicago. One swing of the bat ended a five-game losing streak and pushed the Royals (58-58) back to .500 entering a series finale on Sunday afternoon.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas saved a run with a sprawling stop in the bottom of the ninth, throwing across the diamond for the final out with a man in scoring position.
Cabrera had spent nearly three full seasons here, manning a corner spot in the outfield, winning over the locals with his consistent hustle and goofy charisma. On Saturday, he played the role of heel, pouncing on a 3-2 slider from the arm of reliever Aaron Bummer and depositing the baseball into the seats in left-center field.
Cabrera had battled for eight pitches before hammering a mistake. He erased a 4-3 lead and helped the Royals to their first victory since last Sunday evening against the Seattle Mariners.
The inning had opened with a walk from Lorenzo Cain. He moved to second when White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada bobbled a ground ball. The late surge nullified another frustrating night for the Royals bullpen.
Starter Ian Kennedy had surrendered two runs in 61/3 innings before issuing a walk with one out in the sixth. He exited for reliever Scott Alexander, who continued his recent struggles.
Alexander allowed a one-out double to Omar Narvaez and a two-out, two-run single to Leury Garcia. In moments, the Royals' 3-2 lead had turned into a one-run deficit.
For a moment, it appeared that another loss was looming. In the first 11 days of August, the Royals had been outscored 74-46 while losing nine of 11. The bullpen had allowed 29 earned runs in 36 innings. The defense was a nightly question mark.
But then Cabrera offered the kind of relief that the bullpen could not provide. And Kansas City evened the series. And they will seek another victory on Sunday.
Still in the thick of the American League wild-card race despite 10 losses in 12 games, the Royals must now streak in the other direction to offset the cold start to August.
On Saturday, Kennedy was coming off consecutive starts in which he yielded 10 earned runs in 10 innings. His last outing was marked by inconsistent command and a rash of walks. In the moments after an 11-3 loss to the Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium, Kennedy appeared confounded by the mini slump.
"It's like you get into a funk," he said.
In his previous six starts, Kennedy had logged five 'quality' starts. In the days before taking the mound here in Chicago, pitching coach Dave Eiland discovered a slight mechanical flaw. Kennedy was pulling his head to the left during his delivery, causing his body to drift and his arm to lag. The issue was minor. Yet Kennedy sought to clean it up during a bullpen session earlier this week.
The results were apparent on Saturday night. Kennedy allowed just two runs on solo homers from White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu in the fourth and sixth. The first blast came on a 1-1 fastball that moved in on Abreu. The second came on a 2-2 change-up that stayed in the heart of the strike zone.
Kennedy was also the beneficiary of some suspect base running on the other side. Moncada reached base on a passed ball in the first inning before being caught stealing on what might have been a missed hit-and-run from Abreu. Moments later, Abreu singled and Avisail Garcia followed with a double into the left-field corner. Alex Gordon retrieved the ball and threw a strike to the cut-off man. Abreu blew through a stop sign at third. And shortstop Alcides Escobar threw him out easily at the plate.
For Gordon, it was the 82nd outfield assist of his career, the most in the American League since 2010.
Garcia would later run into another out in the sixth when Royals catcher Drew Butera backed up an errant throw from second baseman Whit Merrifield and relayed the throw back to second.
In moments, the White Sox were running as if they wished to end the Royals' five-game losing streak themselves. By the end of the night, Cabrera and Moustakas would handle that.