Five Cuts: With season on the line, White Sox show playoff moxie
CHICAGO -- One down, two to go for the White Sox as they try to hang on in the race for the AL Central title. Here's what we learned from their season-saving 5-1 victory over the Indians on Sunday afternoon:
1. The Sox don't quit. The Sox have not been pretty of late, losing five straight and eight of 10 before Sunday's triumph, but they have never stopped competing. Even in their first two losses to the Indians this series, they fought back from big deficits to keep it close. With their season on the line Sunday, they responded with a focused effort worthy of a playoff team.
Chicago's resiliency this season, amid significant injuries and recent severe pitching woes, bears mention as they head into Monday's makeup game with the Tigers and possible one-game tiebreaker Tuesday against the Twins. The Sox pitching staff might be in shambles, but they have enough veteran leaders to give them a chance. "We've got guys who have been in these kinds of situations before," catcher A.J. Pierzysnki said. "We know what it takes."
2. If Sox have an ace, Buehrle is it. Mark Buehrle has never been considered a classic ace, but the lefty has been a pretty darn good pitcher over his nine-year career. He has a successful World Series start (and save), an All-Star Game start (and win) and a no-hitter on his resume. On Sunday he added a season-saving victory for his Sox club.
Pitching on three days rest, Buehrle held the Indians to one run over seven innings. It many ways it was a typical Buehrle effort. He gave up nine hits, including a solo homer to Jhonny Peralta in the second inning, but he found ways to work himself out of jams. He elicited four double plays, including one he started with a nifty backhand stab of an Asdrubal Cabrera shot in the third. He also helped his own cause by picking off Franklin Gutierrez in the fifth.
"One of those days when I made the right pitch at the right time," said Buehrle, who threw 111 pitches just three days after firing 121 against the Twins. "My arm felt fine." The Sox can only hope Buehrle's heavy workload of late doesn't take a toll if they do make the postseason.
3. Konerko, Dye aren't done yet. Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye appear to be heating up just in time. The two sluggers drove in a combined three runs Sunday to give Buehrle just enough cushion. Konerko started the Sox off with a solo home run in the second to tie the score at 1-1. It was his fourth homer in three games. Dye added two singles, including a dunker that scored two runs in the seventh.
Konerko's surge is especially important. After a dismal first half, the streaky first baseman actually has been hitting pretty well for awhile now. He came into the game hitting .320 with 12 HR and 26 RBI over last 39 games.
"Paul Konerko is a big part of our ballclub," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He was trying to do too much [earlier in the season]... I think he's a little more relaxed, and he's being really aggressive at the plate."
4. The Sox crowd can be a factor. One big advantage the Sox have over the next two games is that they will be played at U.S. Cellular Field. Chicago is 52-28 at home this season, fourth-best in the majors. While most of that success can be attributed to the park's friendly air currents which help boost their league-leading home run totals, the boisterousness nature of the crowd surely does not hurt.
On Sunday the crowd of 33,000-plus was in the game the whole time, cheering loudly when the Sox took the field before the game. It will be interesting to see whether Chicago can get that kind of crowd for Monday's makeup game.
"I hope they'll be as good as they were today," Pierzynski said. "I know it's a Monday, and a work day, but hopefully they'll be able to come out because they've really been great all year."
5. Sox ready for Freddy. The Sox said they expected a fierce effort from former teammate Freddy Garcia (1-1, 4.50 ERA), who will start for Detroit. Garcia pitched for the Sox from 2004-06 before being traded to the Phillies in '07 in a deal that ironically brought Gavin Floyd (16-8, 3.91 ERA), who will start for the Sox on Monday, to Chicago. Garcia's history of pitching well in big games -- including the clinching Game 4 of the '05 World Series -- was not lost on his fellow teammates.
Guillen said he already had traded text messages with Garcia, a close friend and fellow Venezuelan who also happens to be married to Guillen's niece.
"We've got to be ready for Freddy," Guillen said. "He's going to try to beat us. ... I know the Tigers are going to come in here and play real hard."