KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox offense has received high marks all week for its collective grit, tough at-bats, an abundance of runs scored and its nonstop effort.
But the group received perhaps its biggest compliment to date on Sunday afternoon when Chris Sale wasn’t needed in the ninth inning.
In mere minutes, the White Sox went from feeling as if they had to send their ace back out with 111 pitches thrown to canceling those plans and turning to closer Matt Lindstrom, all thanks to a late rally.
A four-run surge in the ninth inning, rare given the opponent, delivered Sale and the White Sox all the cushion they needed as they avoided a sweep against the Kansas City Royals with a 5-1 win in in front of 29,760 at Kauffman Stadium.
Sale improved to 2-0 with eight scoreless innings and the White Sox evened their record at 3-3 in part because of a pair of late run-scoring hits by Alexei Ramirez.
“He was going back out, he was pitching great, he was on his game,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That long inning in the ninth, once you get those runs, you send somebody else out there. He sat too long.”
Sale (2-0) hadn’t been afforded much time on the bench against Kansas City over the last year.
He entered the game without a run of support against the Royals for 23 innings, a streak that dated back to Opening Day 2013 and a fifth-inning home run by Tyler Flowers.
But that run ended after 29 innings when Ramirez broke through with an infield RBI single against Kansas City starter James Shields (0-1) with two outs. Conor Gillaspie, who doubled with one out and moved up on a grounder, scored as Ramirez’s single snuck under the glove of shortstop Alcides Escobar for a hit.
In tune with four of the team’s first five games, the White Sox applied more pressure after Shields -- one earned run and five hits allowed over seven innings -- departed. Adam Dunn singled off left-hander Tim Collins to start the ninth inning and Dayan Viciedo drew a walk. Leury Garcia, who pinch ran for Dunn, then stole third and scored easily when Salvador Perez’s errant throw dribbled into left field.
Ramirez followed a one-out walk of Avisail Garcia with an RBI double to left to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead. The shortstop went 2-for-4 and has a team-high 10 hits.
Flowers then broke it open with a two-run single to center and Sale --- who was dominant for eight innings --- was forced to take a seat, though he tried to hide from Ventura in the dugout to avoid hearing he wouldn’t return for the ninth.
Sale allowed four hits and walked one while striking out six.
In two starts this season, Sale, who received the third-lowest run support in the American League in 2013 (3.19 runs), has been back by 10 runs.
“They told me I was going back out,” Sale said. “Once we get that rally, the night was over. … Even if the outcome isn’t what we want, you still know they’re scrapping and fighting and giving everything they got. We’re there late in the game … you get a rally going with Alexei and that big double right there. Leury with a big heads up play stealing third, that’s just an energy booster. You’ve got guys running around with energy like that, it’s always nice.”
Though it’s far too early to assess much, the White Sox offense has made a strong impression over its first six games.
The White Sox have rallied from deficits in four of six games and shown signs of late life where last season’s group often showed none. With a reconfigured lineup featuring four new faces, a team that averaged 3.69 runs a season ago and dismissed hitting coach Jeff Manto in September has been much improved.
The White Sox have scored 34 runs in six games and have a team on-base percentage of .340. The 2013 White Sox finished with a .302 team-OBP.
“We’ve shown from an offensive standpoint that we’re going to grind out every game till the end, that we have the heart and grind to get back in games, that things aren’t over if we’re down 3-1 in the sixth inning,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Certainly it’s the same, higher level of life, energy and competitiveness we saw in Glendale.”