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Sox walk off on Thome's milestone shot09/07/2008 12:45 AM ET
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- At approximately the same time Gavin Floyd was throwing his first pitch against the Angels on Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field, Justin Morneau was lining out to second base with the bases loaded to complete the Twins' come-from-ahead loss to the Tigers at the Metrodome.
Six minutes short of four hours later, Jim Thome made sure the White Sox took full advantage of another heartbreaking and momentum-altering Twins defeat.
Thome's 11th career walk-off home run, coming with one out in the 15th inning, gave the South Siders a 7-6 victory over the American League West leaders in this marathon affair played before 31,046. Thome's 438-foot clout off Justin Speier (1-8) almost reached the right-field concourse and marked the 12th season of his illustrious career that the slugger has reached 30 home runs.
This prodigious drive on an 0-1 offering also pushed Thome past Mickey Mantle for 14th place on the all-time list with 537 home runs, but enough about the individual accomplishments that came from the White Sox third long ball of the night. With their second straight win over the Angels (85-56) and third straight win overall, the Sox (80-61) jumped to a 2 1/2-game lead over the Twins (78-64) atop the American League Central -- their first advantage above two games since holding a three-game lead on July 26.
Manager Ozzie Guillen was more focused on how his team arrived at this division lead, as opposed to the AL Central cushion itself.
"Obviously, it's nice. It's a little more room to fight with," said Guillen, after the White Sox improved to 2-0 in 15-inning games this season, having defeated the Royals on June 4 in the same fashion. "But no matter what the Twins do, we should worry about what we do. If they lose and we lose, it doesn't mean anything.
"The important thing for us is to win as many games as we can," Guillen added.
Saturday's outcome didn't appear to lean toward the White Sox favor when they fell behind by a 5-2 margin in the sixth, courtesy of three Angels home runs. Paul Konerko's solo shot (No. 15) in the sixth cut the lead down by one, allowing Nick Swisher to tie the game with his 24th home run in the seventh -- a two-run shot off John Lackey.
Once again, the White Sox looked in trouble in the ninth, when Brandon Wood's solo home run off closer Bobby Jenks put the Angels up one, with closer Francisco Rodriguez entering the game. But singles from Alexei Ramirez and Swisher, followed by a pinch-hit sacrifice fly from Dewayne Wise, deprived Rodriguez of save No. 55 and kept Bobby Thigpen's Major League record of 57 saves safe for another day.
Both bullpens put up zeros from the 10th through the 14th, before Thome connected off Speier for Chicago's fifth game-ending home run and ninth game-ending play of the season. Thome circled the bases and made a quick entrance into the awaiting player mass at home plate, but immediately backpedaled out of the celebration to avoid injury.
"I didn't want to get beat up at home plate, and I know they didn't expect me to backpedal like that," said Thome with a smile, after ending up back around third base. "But yeah, that felt pretty good."
"You knew it almost had to be a home run to end it, because it didn't seem like anybody was getting anything going," Konerko added. "We knew if someone got just one good pitch to hit, maybe we could hit a home run and that would be it."
A golden chance for victory existed for the White Sox in the 10th, when A.J. Pierzynski started what appeared to be the winning rally off Scot Shields with an infield single, moving to second on second baseman Sean Rodriguez's throwing error. Jermaine Dye's single, misplayed by Wood, moved Pierzynski to third, but the White Sox catcher was caught off third by Chone Figgins on Konerko's grounder for the second out.
Ken Griffey Jr. followed with a long drive to center that had the look of a game-winner, before Torii Hunter made a slick running catch to keep the game going.
"Junior hit that ball and I thought the game was over," Guillen said. "But you have one of the best center fielders in baseball out there."
Shields actually struck out Thome for the first out in the 10th, but Thome gained his revenge against Speier.
"That's Jim's fault we played that many innings," Guillen said with a laugh. "I don't know if it's the greatest win this year so far, because we have lots. But fighting and coming from behind, it's nice to see those guys fight the way they fought today."
Partial credit for this important victory goes to the collective bullpen work turned in by Octavio Dotel, Jenks, Mike MacDougal, Matt Thornton, Horacio Ramirez and Ehren Wassermann (1-1). They combined to allow one run on four hits over eight innings, with Thornton's scoreless work covering 2 2/3 frames.
Now, the White Sox can enjoy a little bit of breathing room, or even comfort, as the AL Central leaders.
"We knew Minnesota had lost," Thome said. "The bottom line is to worry about our own business, and we've done a good of doing that."
"It makes it a big win for us right there," Thornton added. "No chance it's comfortable yet. No way."
If there's any wonder what sort of lead produces said comfort zone, Thornton had a quick reply.
"When we clinch," Thornton said. "That's when it's comfortable, absolutely."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.