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08/22/07 12:07 AM ET

Royals pushed back down by Sox

Nunez works four innings, suffers season's first loss

CHICAGO -- Well, it was fun while it lasted. The Royals, after four days of freedom, are back in the solitary confinement of last place.

The Chicago White Sox tripped the Royals, 5-2, on Tuesday night and sent them tumbling down the cellar stairs. The two clubs had been tied for fourth in the American League Central.

The pushing and shoving isn't over, of course. The Royals, eager to end three straight years at the bottom, can climb back into a tie in Wednesday afternoon's series finale at U.S. Cellular Field.

"Obviously it's been since '03, so it's nice to be in fourth instead of fifth," Royals pitcher Jimmy Gobble said. "We've got to keep striving for the next step and the next step. We've done pretty well. If we keep playing consistent ball, good things will happen and we'll keep moving forward."

The Royals already have 55 victories this season, a number they didn't reach until Sept. 12 in 2006. So they're gaining on the process. But they couldn't add to it Tuesday night.

They did have one great escape, however. Joey Gathright, their hot-hitting left fielder, took a nasty spill into the stands but apparently didn't suffer any damage.

Gathright raced after A.J. Pierzynski's foul fly in the third inning and crashed right into a guard rail, flipping over into the stands, and struck his head.

"I was just going after the ball and didn't see the rail until I got there. I was trying to dodge some guy and I hit my head on something hard," he said.

He got up groggily, but, after some looking-after by assistant athletic trainer Frank Kyte and some uplifting words from center fielder David DeJesus, he stayed in the game.

Afterward Gathright had a headache and no regrets.

"If I go over the rail, I go over the rail," he said. "I've got to get the ball."

He didn't, by the way, but Pierzynski then struck out against young Royals starter Leo Nunez. Pierzynski was the least of Nunez's worries.

Nunez never had faced Jim Thome before. Probably didn't know much about him. He does now.

Thome belted a run-scoring double in the first inning, then drilled a two-run homer to right field in the third inning. Mark it down in Nunez's ledger: Thome, 2-for-2, three RBIs.

Danny Richar, a Dominican countryman, also took Nunez deep with a solo shot in the fourth. That gave the White Sox a 4-1 lead and Nunez was about to leave the game.

"Noonie threw a lot of pitches (89) in four innings," manager Buddy Bell noted.

The four innings were one more than his previous outing that went three innings because of a blister problem. This time the thumb didn't bother him, Nunez said.

Paul Konerko hit the third homer for the home crowd of 35,309 in the eighth, a solo drive against Gobble.

This was the Royals' second straight loss in Chicago.

"We're not swinging the bats too well, but you're talking about two guys who have done pretty well in the big leagues," Bell said, referring to White Sox starters Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez went six-plus innings on Tuesday night and gave up two runs. The first was achieved without a hit on shortstop Juan Uribe's two-base throwing error, a groundout that got Billy Butler over to third, and Emil Brown's sacrifice fly.

That came in the fourth. Two innings later, Brown knocked in another run with a single. He was playing only because Mark Teahen was scratched because of an elbow injury.

"Vazquez was pretty good and he got out of some jams with minimal damage -- give him credit for that," Brown said.

So the Royals are back in last place all alone, for now.

"If we keep busting our humps, playing hard and keeping our heads up like we've been doing, good things will happen," Gobble said.

"This is a tough division. If at the end of the day we're satisfied with our effort, that means more than any place. And that will show up eventually."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.