Derek Holland hitched up the heavy, gaudy wrestling belt strapped around his waist and flashed the kind of smile any world champion would wear after having their arm raised in the ring.
It was fitting, too, the way the White Sox left-hander pinned down the Royals on Thursday.
Holland scattered three hits while pitching into the seventh inning, and Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson went deep, helping Chicago to a 8-3 win over Kansas City and a split of their four-game set.
"It's about time I earned this," Holland said of the belt, which is awarded by Melky Cabrera and a bunch of other White Sox teammates to the game MVP. "It's hard to get it."
Holland (3-2) has deserved it on several occasions: He's allowed two earned runs or fewer in his first six outings this season. In this one, he struck out seven with only one walk before exiting with two outs in the seventh, and only one of the two runs charged to him was earned.
"Listen, he came to spring training and everyone was asking what we expected of him," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "He's doing exactly what we expected of him."
Meanwhile, Royals counterpart Ian Kennedy was going through a double-dose of misfortune.
First, the right-hander surrendered five runs on six hits and a walk in his first truly shaky start of the season. Then, Kennedy (0-3) was forced to leave with one out in the fifth after feeling a pinch in his right hamstring — an MRI exam during the game revealed a Grade 1 strain.
"Walking I don't feel it, just the pitching motion and doing everything else," Kennedy said. "It's one of those things we'll see how it feels tomorrow. It stinks."
Asked whether Kennedy was headed for the disabled list, manager Ned Yost replied: ""I don't know. We're discussing our options right now."
Kennedy struggled from the onset, giving up a one-out single to Cabrera and a 427-foot homer to Abreu in the first. Davidson added his solo shot into the fountains in left in the second.
In the fourth, Kennedy was victimized by an error, hit a batter and committed a balk before giving up back-to-back hits. He also walked a batter as the White Sox pushed two more runs across.
"I was missing my spots. I was all over the place," Kennedy said. "It was just a bad day."
Five runs were more than enough for Holland, who retired the first 10 batters he faced.
Mixing a fastball and sinker, Holland kept the punchless Royals guessing all the afternoon, silencing a Kauffman Stadium crowd filled with kids out for "School Day at the K." He only allowed two doubles before the seventh inning, when the Royals finally managed to coax two runs across.
The White Sox had already tacked on two of their own in the seventh off the Kansas City bullpen.
STATS AND STREAKS
Abreu also homered in his final at-bat Wednesday night. ... White Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak has retired 13 straight and 31 of his last 32 batters. ... Kennedy has received five runs of support in his six starts. ... The Royals have committed eight errors in their last 12 games. They had just one in the first 15 games. ... The Royals lost a challenge for the first time in seven tries this season.
Royals OF Alex Gordon was plunked by a pitch with one out in the seventh, the 79th time he's been hit by a pitch. That set a franchise record that Gordon had shared with Mike Macfarlane.
Royals: RHP Jason Hammel gets the nod to open a three-game set with Cleveland on Friday night.