KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kauffman Stadium crowd was fired up in the fifth inning Monday night, the enthusiasm of Royals fans growing with each hit.
The momentum built every time Kansas City scored as the Royals quickly closed the gap from five runs to two. But even as the chaos continued around him, White Sox rookie Reynaldo Lopez was the picture of calm on the mound.
Since he arrived in the big leagues last month, the White Sox have noticed their prized pitching prospect is unflappable when it comes to big moments. When everyone else’s pulse is increasing, Lopez is cool as a cucumber, trying to figure out how to escape the jam he’s in. The belief is that this poise displayed by Lopez — who earned his first White Sox victory with six-plus strong innings on Monday — will pay great dividends as he makes his way through the American League for the first time.
“He’s truly very focused on what his game plan is and how he’s going to attack hitters,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he does trust his stuff. I think he’s very self-critical, you can see it after a walk when he comes into the dugout. He’s upset with himself for not having executed certain things. But he keeps it under control understanding in his head what he’s going to do next time in that particular situation. The demeanor is very poised for a person of his age.”
While it doesn’t have the same rock concert-type atmosphere as Dodger Stadium, Kauffman is no joke when the crowd gets going. The White Sox have seen the park’s effect many times in recent years, notably in last season’s Memorial Day Weekend meltdown. One hit gets the boisterous crowd going, and before you know it an avalanche of noise is headed your way.
Lopez got his first taste in the fifth as his five-run lead nearly evaporated.
Brandon Moss blasted a solo homer to make it a 5-1 game. Kauffman then started to buzz when Alex Gordon singled with one out and the volume increased substantially when Whit Merrifield hit a run-scoring triple. Merrifield’s hit brought Don Cooper to the mound for a visit and yet even that didn’t stop the bleeding as Lorenzo Cain followed with a run-scoring single.
As much as the situation seemed to be getting out of hand, Lopez didn’t rattle. He instead made a quick adjustment and retired Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer to escape with the two-run lead.
“It gets pretty loud,” catcher Omar Narvaez said. “But he’s the same guy. The only thing I saw was he was leaving the arm behind, which left the ball up. But he made the adjustment to come back and get everybody else.
“He’s just been the same guy, trying to attack the zone and make them swing. That’s why he’s effective because first of all he throws strikes and second he makes everybody swing. That’s the most important for a pitcher.”
Lopez followed with a six-run White Sox rally in the sixth with another important aspect of pitching — a quick inning. The right-hander bounced back from a lengthy fifth with a seven-pitch sixth inning. The quick frame kept Lopez’s pitch count down enough where the White Sox brought him back for the seventh inning on a hitter-by-hitter basis. Lopez allowed a leadoff single in the seventh and was pulled immediately, but would have continued on had he recorded an out.
“I just tried harder to keep my focus, to not lose my focus on the game in (the fifth inning),” Lopez said through an interpreter. “And I was able to do that, and that’s why I was able to get out of that situation.”
Renteria thinks it’s partly because of who Lopez is and in part because of his previous major league experience. The way Lopez has operated so far has impressed the White Sox manager.
“I do think one of things he does have is a tremendous confidence about him,” Renteria said. “He’s not an arrogant person. He’s a person that keeps it within and knows how to go out there and kind of control his emotions a little bit. He’s very good at doing it right now.”