Chris Sale outpitched James Shields, Tyler Flowers homered and the Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 1-0 in the season opener on Monday.
The White Sox believe they're in position to make a run at the AL Central title even though they made no splashy additions while the rest of the division loaded up. They're off to a good start after a late fade left them three games behind Detroit a year ago.
A dominant performance by Sale and Flowers' drive leading off the fifth against Shields were just enough to beat a team that's trying to make a big jump after finishing with a losing record 17 of the past 18 seasons. It also gave the White Sox a rare win over the Royals, who took 12 of 18 from them a year ago.
Sale (1-0) showed the form that made him a 17-game winner and an All-Star in his first season as a starter. On a chilly day when the game-time temperature was 44, he allowed just seven hits and struck out seven while walking one, and he left to a standing ovation after Alcides Escobar's single with two outs in the eighth.
Nate Jones came in and, after Escobar stole second, threw a wild pitch while walking Billy Butler to put runners on first and third. Matt Thornton then struck out Mike Moustakas on three pitches to end the threat, and Addison Reed worked the ninth for the save.
Shields (0-1) was a tough-luck loser even though he gave the Royals exactly what they envisioned when they acquired him from Tampa Bay. The former All-Star lasted six innings, allowing just one run and eight hits while striking out six without a walk.
Along with the addition of Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels and the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie after he dazzled in a short stint with Kansas City last season, the Royals believe they have the arms to challenge reigning division champion Detroit and make the playoffs for the first time since the 1985 championship season.
Shields got out of a tough spot in the second when he struck out Flowers and Gordon Beckham after back-to-back singles by Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez. Sale dodged a bases-loaded jam in the third when he struck out Butler and retired Moustakas on a pop fly.
Chicago finally broke through when Flowers drove a 2-2 pitch out to left-center leading off the fifth. It was his first homer since he went deep against Kansas City last Sept. 8, and it was a promising sight for the organization. After all, one reason the White Sox let A.J. Pierzynski sign with Texas was they believed Flowers was ready to become the everyday catcher. He's shown he can field the position, but it remains to be seen if he can hit.