The Royals rallied for a 9-5 victory and caught up with the Chicago White Sox as the two clubs bob and weave, duck and dodge in their struggle to avoid last place in the American League Central. Now they're tied for fourth, each with a 68-89 record.
The guy who threw the knockout punches for the Royals was their slender shortstop. Tony Pena went 4-for-4, socked a homer and two doubles, scored three runs and had three RBIs.
All that after the White Sox had taken a 5-1 lead in the first inning.
"We just kept our heads up -- that's the No. 1 thing," Pena said. "We didn't get down and that's a good sign."
The Royals, who had luxuriated in fourth place for more than three weeks, recently have been playing cat-and-mouse with the White Sox. For the last four days, though, the Royals sat alone in the cellar.
It looked as if the White Sox might slam the cellar door after they riddled Brian Bannister with five runs in the first inning. Bannister was pulled after getting just two outs, the briefest start in his young career.
"My ball was moving about a foot tonight," Bannister said.
There was a walk, a hit batter and a wild pitch while the crowd of 31,607 was still settling into U.S. Cellular Field. Then came a parade of four run-scoring hits, set off by Paul Konerko's double.
After eight batters, Bannister's superb rookie season was over.
"I had an extra day to think about the game because they pushed me back, and I can be my own worst enemy," Bannister said.
"A Hall of Fame pitcher told me last year, that to be successful at this level, you have to pitch like you don't care out there because pitching is so tough that if you add anything extra to it, it becomes impossible to be successful. And I'm definitely guilty these last two weeks of caring too much about what I do out there."
That pitcher was Tom Glavine, Bannister's teammate last year with the New York Mets. And yet there was the cerebral Bannister, thinking too much and caring too much.
"It's the pitching equivalent of hitting the seven-run home run -- it's not going to happen," he said.
Things did happen for the Royals' bullpen, though. After Bannister left, six relievers combined for 8 1/3 scoreless innings: Ryan Z. Braun, Brandon Duckworth, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, John Bale and Joakim Soria. Under their stewardship, a mere four singles left White Sox bats.
"Stop 'em. Stop the bleeding early," said Braun, describing the mission at hand.
Braun worked 3 1/3 innings and Duckworth, the winner, went two before the late-inning contingent took over.
White Sox starter Jose Contreras, ahead 5-2, seemed to be in control. But, in the seventh, hits by Emil Brown, Pena and Joey Gathright ended his outing. It turned into a four-run inning that gave the Royals a 6-5 lead.
"Usually we don't have enough firepower to come back," manager Buddy Bell said. "I mean, we battle every night and it's nice to get rewarded finally."
The Royals were up, 8-5, in the eighth when the Sox stirred with two hits. But on the second hit, right fielder Mark Teahen threw out A.J. Pierzynski trying for second base and the uprising fizzled.
"The play where Teahen threw out Pierzynski at second base was a huge play. There still wasn't a lot of separation between us so I thought that was the play of the game," Bell said.
The outfield assist was Teahen's 17th this season, tying Jermaine Dye's club record set in 1999. Dye had a front-row seat for the event, in the White Sox dugout.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.