Second-place Cleveland had lost earlier in the day to Toronto, while the hard-charging third-place Tigers wasted two late-inning leads in a walk-off loss to the Orioles at night. So, by the time the White Sox contest against the Royals (38-48) reached the midway point at Kauffman Stadium, the AL Central leaders knew there was ground to be gained.
"I just wasn't good enough," said Peavy, who reached at least 120 pitches for the third time this season, allowing six runs on 12 hits to go with five strikeouts and one walk. "I feel fine health-wise. I just wasn't crazy sharp tonight."
For Saturday's lack of movement, the White Sox (48-39) can thank Alcides Escobar. The Royals shortstop provided almost all of the power behind this three-run win.
Escobar entered the night with two homers overall and without a multi-homer game in his career. He exited with four homers for the season, including the go-ahead shot with two out in the seventh. He connected on a first-pitch fastball from Peavy (7-6), driving the ball out to left and breaking a 3-3 deadlock.
In the third inning, Escobar also had broken a tie with a two-run shot to left. That long ball scored Alex Gordon, who had singled home Jarrod Dyson to start the three-run inning.
"That's my first time and I'm real happy because that's Jake Peavy, a pitcher who won the Cy Young," said Escobar of his big power night.
"He took them into the eighth inning and he's a tremendous competitor out there," said Royals manager Ned Yost of Peavy. "Escobar did the majority of damage against him, but we beat a real good pitcher tonight."
According to Peavy, the home run offering to Escobar in the third wasn't a bad pitch -- just the wrong one. As for Escobar's decisive homer in the seventh, it basically ran right into the barrel of the shortstop's bat.
"There's no excuse for that," said Peavy of the final pitch to Escobar. "It was a sinker that I'm getting tired and running all the way back over the plate, not much on it, not much action."
Fatigue might have been setting in with Peavy in the seventh, but even at 110 pitches, the right-hander returned to the mound for the eighth inning. He threw 10 more pitches, resulting in consecutive singles from Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur, eventually producing two runs and a bigger ninth-inning cushion for Kansas City closer Jonathan Broxton (22nd save).
Butler reached on an infield hit that second baseman Gordon Beckham couldn't come up with cleanly on a barehand effort, and Peavy then had pinch-runner Jason Bourgeois picked off, but first baseman Adam Dunn couldn't hold on to the ball. Francoeur's run-scoring single was a high-hopper going over the drawn-in infield.
Neither Ventura nor Peavy had any issue with his eighth-inning return, especially with the wear and tear on the bullpen in Friday's 14-inning victory and the White Sox playing 10 games in 10 days to start the second half.
"We were talking about it. I would have liked him to go out. He's going to want to do that," Ventura said. "After yesterday, you're looking at what you need the rest of the way. It wasn't as much that we wanted him out, but it was making sure everything was good with him going out there."
"Two of those three batters I made the pitches I wanted to make to get them to do what I wanted them to do," Peavy said. "I felt like I could still make pitches.
Alejandro De Aza's third-inning double off of Luke Hochevar gave the White Sox an early lead, but they started clawing their way back in the sixth on Dunn's titanic blast to center field. The drive was measured at 451 feet, although it seemed to go a greater distance when it cleared the fence just in front of the scoreboard base.
Dayan Viciedo tripled home the game-tying run for the White Sox off reliever Aaron Crow shortly after Taylor Teagarden hit a two-run walk-off shot in Baltimore against Joaquin Benoit. Dunn didn't want to focus postgame on his 27th homer and second in two days, but instead lamented his strikeout against Jose Mijares with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh.
"You can hit all the solo homers you want," Dunn said. "They don't count for nothing. When you have a chance to open up a big inning, you got to start getting those hits."
It was just another part of the White Sox near-miss, preventing them from adding to their division lead, although it might be a little early to be looking.
"Way too early," Dunn said. "You start scoreboard watching now, you're going to start driving yourself crazy."