KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Perhaps the Royals are rousing from their offensive slumber at just the right time.
Lorenzo Cain hit a three-run homer, Nori Aoki kept up his tear at the plate and Kansas City roughed up Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale in a 6-2 victory Wednesday night that allowed the Royals to creep within a half-game of first-place Detroit in the AL Central.
The same bunch of Tigers that arrive for a three-game set starting Friday night.
Alcides Escobar also homered for a Royals lineup that had been scuffling for weeks, and Aoki went 3 for 4 to finish with 11 hits in the series. Yordano Ventura (13-10) allowed three hits and two walks over seven innings, the lone run off him coming on a sacrifice fly.
"We've got our minds right and we're going to go out and win some ballgames," Cain said.
Meanwhile, Sale (12-4) was cuffed for a season-high five earned runs on nine hits over five innings. It was arguably the three-time All-Star's worst start since Aug. 23, 2013, when he gave up eight runs over seven innings in a loss to the Rangers.
"It's not exactly what the doctor ordered," Sale said. "You know what you're going to get with this team every time. And they're fighting, especially in the position they are in now, every pitch is big."
The White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out in the third inning, and Adam Eaton staked them to a lead with his sacrifice fly. But Ventura calmly struck out the next two batters to get out of trouble, and then kept Chicago guessing with a blazing fastball all night.
It didn't take Kansas City long to take the lead for good.
In the bottom of the third, Escobar and Aoki hit back-to-back singles before Cain sent a pitch over the left-field wall. The three-run homer was the first allowed by Sale on an 0-2 count in his career — 164 appearances and nearly 670 batters over parts of five seasons.
"Fighting Chris Sale is always tough," Cain said. "He's one of the best in the game."
He didn't look like it on this night.
Escobar added his solo shot off Sale with two outs in the fourth. Escobar's third homer of the season and first since May 11 landed in almost the exact same spot as Cain's home run.
"Just trying to see the ball," Escobar said. "I've always felt really good against him."
Aoki doubled in the first inning, singled in the third and fourth and walked in the sixth, earning a standing ovation. His 11 hits against the White Sox broke the Royals record for a three-game series that had been shared by George Brett (1982) and Willie Wilson (1980).
It was also the first time a Kansas City player had three hits in three straight games since Mike Sweeney accomplished the feat from July 8-10, 2005, according to STATS.
"He's hotter than a firecracker," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You can't explain it."
Ventura's 13 wins are the most by a Royals rookie since Tom Gordon had 17 in 1989. He also has 21 quality starts, surpassing Bob Johnson's record of 20 set in 1970.
Aoki reached base 13 times in the series, counting his two walks. The last big league player to accomplish that feat was Kevin Kouzmanoff for San Diego during the 2009 season.
The Royals improved to 10-5 against the White Sox, clinching the season series for the fourth consecutive year. The teams meet four times in Chicago next week to finish the regular season.
White Sox: DH-1B Paul Konerko, out since breaking his left hand on Sept. 2, will likely return this weekend in Tampa Bay. "Give him a couple of at-bats and if he's up for it he can probably DH one of those games and see how it feels," manager Robin Ventura said.
Royals: INF Christian Colon (broken middle finger) was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Sept. 7. There was no word on whether the Royals are adding another player to the roster.
White Sox: LHP Jose Quintana (8-10, 3.30 ERA) starts Friday night's opener in Tampa Bay.
Royals: LHP Jason Vargas (11-9, 3.41) tries to bounce back from a loss to Boston in the opener of a crucial three-game series against the Tigers on Friday night.