CHICAGO -- Hours before Monday night's series opener against the White Sox, manager Ned Yost mused about what it would take to snap his Royals out of their funk.
"One big hit in a crucial situation always seems to take the pressure off of everything, and gets you on a bit of a roll," Yost said.
Wishful thinking as it turned out. There was none of that as left-hander Chris Sale pitched the White Sox to a 3-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field. It was the Royals' fourth straight loss since the All-Star break.
It also gave them a 9-18 record since they won 10 straight games in June.
"That 10-game streak seems like it's two years ago," Yost had said.
Yost thought he might have that big, awakening hit in the fourth inning. The Royals had cut the White Sox's lead to 2-1 on Alex Gordon's single, his stolen base and Danny Valencia's RBI single.
Up came Alcides Escobar, who ripped a double down the left-field line. Valencia, carrying the possible spirit-lifting run that would tie the score, launched himself and kept going as third-base coach Mike Jirschele urged him on.
It was the right decision in Yost's view.
"Absolutely," Yost said. "If Danny's a half-step faster, he's safe. It was a good send."
But bad result. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza retrieved the ball, threw to shortstop Alexei Ramirez and his relay to catcher Tyler Flowers was true. Valencia was out.
"As a runner, you're always going until the coach stops you," Valencia said. "I never slowed down. I hit second base a little funny, but I was fully anticipating scoring until, obviously, he's waving me in and I get thrown out at home."
The inning was over and so was the Royals' scoring for the evening.
"That's huge," Sale said. "That's a game-changer. Game-saver. That just gives us momentum. The two runs right out of the gate, that's always nice getting those. Then something like that happens where you get two great throws and save a run. It was awesome."
Sale was pretty awesome himself, going seven innings to boost his record to 9-1. He gave up seven hits, walked just one and struck out eight.
The Royals had another chance at him in the sixth when Salvador Perez led off with a single and, after an out, Billy Butler walked. But Valencia took a swing at a high 3-2 pitch from Sale and missed it.
"I saw a few balls down and I was so focused down that when the fastball came up, it looked good out of his hand," Valencia said. "He throws so hard and the ball rises. It was way up, definitely not a strike."
It could have been ball four, as Yost certainly noticed.
"You don't want to swing on a ball at your shoulder, especially a 3-2 pitch that's going to load the bases, especially the go-ahead run at second base," Yost said.
But Valencia was the second out and when Escobar looked at strike three, that opportunity disappeared.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie experienced a rough first inning, although it might have been worse than the two runs the White Sox managed to get.
The bases got jammed before the first out was made as Adam Eaton singled, Ramirez was hit by a pitch, and Jose Abreu was safe as Valencia bobbled his bouncer to third base. Adam Dunn singled up the middle to score two runs.
"Dunn's ball found a crack in the shift and got two runs," Yost said, "but Guthrie did a good job of holding them right there and kept us in the ballgame the rest of the way."
The third White Sox run came in the sixth after they loaded the bases. Center fielder Jarrod Dyson caught Gordon Beckham's line drive and threw home, just a tick late to get Dunn going after the catch. Catcher Brett Hayes' sweeping tag just missed.
"It was real close," Yost said. "I didn't see the instant replay, but you could tell that he missed him. But I don't think he missed him by much. The ball was up the line a little bit. If it was back toward home plate, he's got him. It was a great throw."
But it just missed, just like Escobar's double was almost that big hit the Royals are so desperately seeking.
"It was," Yost said glumly. "That sure had a chance of tying the ballgame for us right there."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.