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Aoki ignites Royals again

AP, Kyodo

Perhaps the Royals are rousing from their offensive slumber at just the right time.

Lorenzo Cain hit a three-run homer, Norichika 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.

“I’m extremely happy to get hits off a pitcher as good as that,” Aoki said. “Hitting Sale and getting a win off him is big.

“I’m putting up numbers, but I’m at a loss to explain it. I never imagined I’d get this kind of response from the fans. It’s unbelievable.”

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.”

Angels 5, Mariners 0

In Anaheim, Los Angeles clinched the AL West title, getting seven dominant innings of one-hit ball from C.J. Wilson against Seattle.

C.J. Cron hit a three-run homer for the major league-leading Angels (95-57), who wrapped up their first division crown since 2009 when Oakland lost to Texas about an hour after Los Angeles’ game ended.

Rangers 6, Athletics 1

In Oakland, Sean Doolittle allowed a three-run homer to J.P. Arencibia during a six-run ninth inning, and the Athletics fell to Texas.

It was the fourth blown save in 25 chances for Doolittle (1-4) this season.

Yankees 3, Rays 2

In St. Petersburg, Florida, Derek Jeter ended an 0-for-28 slump that was the second-worst of his career, and New York beat Tampa Bay.

The retiring Yankees captain lined a single off Alex Cobb leading off the sixth inning. Jeter had an 0-for-32 stretch in April 2004.

New York’s Ichiro Suzuki was hitless in four at-bats.

Twins 8, Tigers 4

In Minneapolis, Danny Santana tripled, doubled and drove in two runs and the Twins beat Detroit.

Kyle Gibson (12-11) recovered from a rough start to pitch Minnesota to its second straight win.

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles but was thrown out after a costly baserunning mistake in the seventh.

Indians 2, Astros 0

In Houston, Carlos Carrasco threw a two-hitter with a career-high 12 strikeouts to lead Cleveland past the hosts.

Yan Gomes had an RBI single in the fourth inning and a run-scoring triple in the sixth.

Orioles 6, Blue Jays 1

In Baltimore, Steve Pearce homered twice and drove in four runs and the AL East champion whipped Toronto to complete a three-game sweep.

Pearce hit a solo shot in the third inning and a three-run drive in the fifth. He has 20 homers this year, three more than the 31-year-old had previously in his entire career.

The Blue Jays’ Munenori Kawasaki walked twice in his two plate appearances.

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