Chicago White Sox starter Johnny Cueto has pitched for winning teams throughout his career, including the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
After another night of missed opportunities in an 8-3 loss Wednesday against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, the Sox were left to ponder what it would take to show the consistency so many had expected all year.
“I think we need to be more aggressive and we need to show more swagger,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “We need to go out there and play and play hard and show what we can do.
“We need to fight. We need to show the fight, we need to show the fire that we have — if we have any.”
The Sox broke through offensively with three runs in the top of the sixth to take a two-run lead. The Royals tied the game in the bottom of the sixth and went ahead in the seventh on MJ Melendez’s solo home run off Jake Diekman. They pulled away with four in the eighth.
“I look at it like we had a two-run lead and it’s part of the game,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “Sometimes we’ve had rallies that started with a ball hitting a bag or a blooper. It happened for them.”
The Sox trailed 1-0 when they loaded the bases with one out in the sixth.
Gavin Sheets, who flied out to left in a similar situation in the second, smacked a grounder to second with an exit velocity of 106.1 mph. Michael Massey couldn’t cleanly field the hard-hit ball, and two runs scored on the play, which was originally ruled a hit before being changed to an error.
The Sox tacked on a third run on a two-out RBI single by Josh Harrison.
The Royals responded with two in the bottom of the sixth.
Bobby Witt Jr. reached on an infield single, beating the throw from third after a slight double clutch by Yoán Moncada. Witt scored from first on Salvador Perez’s double.
Perez advanced to third on a throwing error by Moncada, who made a nice fielding play on Hunter Dozier’s grounder but threw wide of first baseman José Abreu. Perez scored on a two-out single by Massey.
“I battled,” Cueto said. “Just two ground balls that unfortunately Moncada couldn’t finish those plays. But I kept battling. I did what I could.”
Cueto allowed three runs (two earned) on nine hits with four strikeouts and one walk in six innings.
“Part of baseball,” La Russa said. “And he almost pitched out of it. It’s a tough way to get guys on base. A tough way to give up runs from Johnny’s perspective.”
Diekman has been effective since the Sox acquired him in a trade from the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 1, retiring 10 of 12 batters faced with six strikeouts in his first four outings.
He gave up the homer to Melendez on a 1-2 pitch.
The Royals added the insurance runs in the eighth against Jimmy Lambert, who had not allowed a run over his last 12 outings.
“Diekman made one mistake and (Melendez) hit it out of the park,” La Russa said. “And then it got away from us in the eighth inning. This was not the way Lambert’s been pitching. He’s still very good. Soon as he rests, he’ll be back out there again.”
The Sox didn’t produce anything offensively outside of the sixth. While Royals starter Kris Bubic didn’t factor in the decision, he lowered his career ERA against the Sox to 2.72 in seven outings (six starts) after allowing one earned run on seven hits in 5⅔ innings.
“You look at lifetime, this guy has been tough on us,” La Russa said. “We got the three, I was proud of that. Even the first time that Sheets hit the ball to left field, couldn’t score. And he hit the bullet (in the sixth). (They) pitched good against us but we had a chance to win that game. Just got away from us.”
The Sox fell back to a game above .500 at 56-55. They’re in third in the American League Central, 2½ games out of first place.
“Not yet,” La Russa said about sustaining success, “doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t.”
He believes it’s still coming for the Sox.
“Because I know what’s in here,” he said. “If we didn’t have that, we would have been buried a long time ago. The fact that we’re still clawing and fighting tells you that we can make something good happen that’s consistent.”
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