CHICAGO — Here was a hint Thursday afternoon of why the Royals believe this year will be different. Their bats remained on ice, but they still avoided the specter of a depressing three-game sweep to start the season.
Ashland native Jeremy Guthrie worked six strong innings before the Royals turned to their power bullpen to close out a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
"There are going to be times when we're firing on all cylinders, batting around the order and scoring seven or eight runs," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "That's when you win, and you kind of win easy.
"These are the games where you've got to find a way to win ... you kind of see a glimpse of what this year could be — and it could be a lot of fun."
The offense that ravaged the Cactus League managed a mere five hits but bunched three of them in a three-run fifth inning against White Sox starter Gavin Floyd.
Chris Getz broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI single before scoring on Alex Gordon's RBI double to right. But it all started with a walk and the decision by manager Ned Yost to call for the hit-and-run single with Francoeur.
"Ned was player of the game," Gordon said. "We weren't hitting the ball well at all. To hit-and-run with Frenchy, that's something you usually don't do, but he did it, and it got us rolling. After that, we put a few runs up."
OK, let's reset.
The Royals had managed just one runner — a one-out double in the second by Salvy Perez — in what was still a scoreless game when Eric Hosmer drew a one-out walk in the fifth.
"I told Frenchy and Getzie that we're going to do something a little out of the norm right here," Yost said. "We're going to look for a spot to hit-and-run to see if we can't break the ice a little bit and get us going."
Francoeur responded by bouncing a single through the right side, vacated by second baseman Gordon Beckham, that moved Hosmer to third.
Jarrod Dyson followed with a hopper to first that eluded a leaping Paul Konerko. While Beckham backed up the play and got an out at first, Hosmer scored, and the Royals led 1-0 — their first lead of the season.
"Dyce got the first run in," Yost said, "and everybody kind of relaxed. Then boom, boom. Now, we've got a three-run lead. It's coming."
Getz lined an RBI single into center and took second when Alejandro De Aza failed to play the ball cleanly. That permitted Getz to score easily when Gordon yanked a double into the right-field corner.
That made it 3-0, which was enough for Guthrie and the bullpen.
Just enough, but enough.
Guthrie stumbled with two outs in the Chicago fifth, when a walk and two singles produced the White Sox's only run, but he handed a two-run lead to Aaron Crow to start the seventh.
"He's not a one-pitch pitcher," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "He can take different pitches and make it look six different ways . . . (he) gets ahead with first-pitch strikes. He makes it tough on us."
Really tough. Guthrie has yielded just two earned runs in 35 2/3 innings against the White Sox in five starts since joining the Royals in last July's trade with Colorado.
"I've never had a mastery over any team," he said in brushing aside a question. "If I do, I'll be sure to let you know. I've had quite a few that have mastery over me."
You judge: Guthrie permitted five hits in his six innings while walking one and striking out nine — just one shy of his career high.
"I thought my slider today was a little better located than it has been in the past," he said. "A large portion of the strikeouts came on the sliders."
Then it was on to the bullpen.
Chicago put the tying runs on base against Crow with successive one-out singles by Tyler Flowers and Beckham, but Dyson ran down De Aza's fly into the right-center gap.
Crow ended the inning by deflecting a Jeff Keppinger hopper to Getz, who threw to first for the out. Kelvin Herrera then worked a quick eighth with two strikeouts and a routine fly to left.
Greg Holland retired the first two hitters in the ninth before walking Flowers and yielding a single to Beckham, which put the tying run on base. Beckham had four of the White Sox's eight hits.
"I got two quick outs," Holland said, "and I told myself, 'OK, just pound the strike zone.' But I didn't go after (Flowers) enough because I was trying to control my adrenaline a little bit. I haven't felt that in awhile."
Holland ended the game by retiring De Aza on a grounder to first.
When Holland took the throw from Hosmer, the Royals had their first victory — thanks largely to Guthrie, the No. 3 starter in their revamped rotation, and a bullpen long viewed as their most reliable strength.
A sign of things to come?
"I think all five of our (starters) are very capable of doing what Guthrie did today," Getz said, "but they're not always going to have to do something like that.
"I think we're just a little anxious up there. We'll get clicking and take a little bit of pressure off of the pitchers."