Royals hold on despite baffled bullpen

Wednesday, August 22, 2007 | 9:49 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

CHICAGO — Brian Bannister doesn’t want to pitch for a last-place club. His sights are set on fourth place.

For the Kansas City Royals, baby steps are necessary.

Billy Butler homered and drove in three runs to back Bannister’s strong outing, and Kansas City held off the Chicago White Sox 7-6 on Wednesday. The clubs are tied at the bottom of the five-team AL Central at 56-70.

“I think fourth just sounds better than last,” Bannister said. “Because when you’re in last, you don’t really know what place you’re in. At least with fourth, you know there are three teams ahead of you.”

Kansas City ended a three-game skid and kept the White Sox from completing their first series sweep at home since Aug. 11-13, 2006, against Detroit.

Bannister (10-7) won for the fifth time in seven starts and lowered his ERA to 3.28, seventh-best in the American League. After giving up two runs, three hits and a walk in the first inning, the right-hander retired 18 of 21 batters. He is the first Royals rookie to win 10 games since Rusty Meachum in 1992.

“He pitched great,” Kansas City manager Buddy Bell said. “After the first inning he was locked in. He had great tempo. Typical game.”

Coming off his first complete game, Bannister left with two outs in the seventh before Jimmy Gobble got out of the inning.

“The biggest thing in this game is being able to make adjustments,” Bannister said. “I came in after the first and watched myself on tape. I made some mechanical adjustments. My front shoulder was flying open a little bit. That was causing me to land on my heel a little bit. I went through it a couple times and made the necessary adjustments.”

The White Sox cut it to 7-6 in the ninth on Josh Fields’ three-run homer off Joakim Soria with two outs. Jim Thome singled before Soria struck out Paul Konerko to end it.

“You never know when you have enough runs,” said Butler, the AL rookie of the month in July. “I’m just glad I could help the team win today. I had some tough at-bats. I’m just glad I could do something positive.”

Konerko hit his 25th home run in the eighth off Gobble to make it 7-3.

The Royals struck early against struggling Jose Contreras, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings.

The White Sox starter hit Mark Grudzielanek with a pitch in the first and gave up a single to David DeJesus before a sacrifice fly by Butler and a run-scoring single from Ross Gload made it 2-0.

The White Sox tied it in the bottom half on RBI singles by Darin Erstad and Jermaine Dye, but Contreras (6-16) fell apart again with two outs in the second. He walked No. 9 hitter Jason LaRue and gave up consecutive singles to Joey Gathright, Grudzielanek and DeJesus to make it 4-2.

“I think his biggest problem was location,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. “After the second inning he settled down a little bit. When I went to the mound I said, ’I don’t care how many innings you’re going to throw, I want you to be aggressive. Give me the best fastballs and the best of what you have for today’s game.’”

Contreras, sent to the bullpen for two appearances earlier this month, has lost nine straight starts. In danger of losing 20 games, he said he hasn’t thought at all about ending his season early.

“I feel good and my arm feels great,” Contreras said through a translator. “I’m healthy.”

Guillen said he will continue to send out Contreras for the remainder of the season.

“I know how this kid feels,” Guillen said. “He played for pride his whole career. Now he’s getting paid. Obviously he’s going to feel embarrassed and that he’s let people down.”

Contreras rebounded to throw four scoreless innings before giving way to Mike Myers in the seventh. In his second appearance for Chicago in two days since being acquired from the Yankees on Monday, Myers got two quick outs before DeJesus reached on a bunt single. Myers then gave up Butler’s fifth homer to make it 6-2.

Emil Brown scored from third on catcher Toby Hall’s throwing error in the eighth, making it 7-2.

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