CHICAGO -- A.J. Pierzynski had a full night of action while playing just one-half inning during Monday's 5-4 victory over the Royals at U.S. Cellular Field.
With the game deadlocked in the bottom of the ninth, Pierzynski pinch-hit for Ramon Castro and golfed a single to center off Royals All-Star Aaron Crow (2-2) to open the frame. Pierzynski stood on third two outs later, with new fan favorite Adam Dunn at the plate, when Crow balked home the game-winning run on a 1-0 count.
It was Pierzynski who immediately brought attention to Crow, with vocal assistance from Dunn, after the reliever started out of the stretch, stopped and then tried to hide the miscue by stepping off the mound. Home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano made the official call, starting the White Sox postgame fireworks.
Leave it to Pierzynski to then coin a phrase describing the unique way that the White Sox (43-43) returned to .500.
"Balk-off," said a smiling Pierzynski as he departed the White Sox clubhouse.
OK, Pierzynski probably isn't the first one to come up with such obvious cleverness. One-time White Sox hurler and current Mets righty D.J. Carrasco balked home the deciding run in the 10th inning of a game against the Braves on June 16 of this season.
But the White Sox were giddy for more reasons than simply staying 3 1/2 games behind the Indians, who pulled off a comeback win at home against the Yankees, or improving to 7-11 against the American League Central. The White Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the Royals (34-51), taking the lead on Dunn's two-run homer in the eighth off Crow.
Dunn actually had a banner night on the Fourth of July, maybe his most significant showing since a four-hit effort on May 11 in Anaheim or going back as far as Opening Day in Cleveland. After striking out in the first against left-hander Jeff Francis, Dunn singled to right and later scored leading off the fourth, marking his second hit in 55 at-bats against southpaws.
AL All-Star Final Vote Day 1 leader Paul Konerko followed Dunn with a single, one of his two hits on the night.
As Dunn settled in at first base, the crowd of 31,077 gave him a mock standing ovation. Dunn has handled this disastrous season better than anyone could imagine, and he responded by tipping his helmet.
His soaring blast with Brent Morel on base, which barely cleared the right-field fence, earned Dunn a genuine curtain call. Dunn said he found something to feel good about in his second at-bat Sunday at Wrigley Field. On Monday, he found something to make him feel great.
"I've played in Chicago before and I've been here for a little while," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Dunn, who homered for the first time since June 12 and raised his average to .171. "You need one big hit to put the crowd back in your pocket."
"That part, that's part of it," Dunn said. "I promise you it's a way better feeling that way than the other way. I appreciate them, especially tonight, sticking with it. The thing about the fans, they boo and stuff because they want to see the team and you personally do so well. That's how I've been looking at it."
Mark Buehrle and Francis both turned in quality starts, with Buehrle allowing three runs on seven hits over seven innings, but neither one factored in the decision. Crow blew the save for Francis, and then the first pitch from Sergio Santos (3-3) in the top of the ninth was hit out by Eric Hosmer, who once played high school baseball against Guillen's youngest son, Ozney.
This play was originally ruled a triple, but the umpires went to instant replay and made the correct call by changing it to Hosmer's seventh long ball. Santos put two more runners on, but he escaped when Mitch Maier's long fly ball was caught by right fielder Carlos Quentin two steps from the field fence.
The balk-off stage was then set, although the Royals weren't quite as sure as the White Sox about the call's accuracy.
"Maybe he turned his shoulder a little bit. I don't know," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "I don't know how you can step off and turn your shoulder. But he was standing here and then just kind of turned his shoulder, turned his head and stepped off. That's what a balk is -- deceiving a runner. You're telling me he was deceiving a runner? He was stepping off. That's what he was doing."
"You better be sure if someone balks when you call a game on that," said Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who homered in the first off Buehrle and expressed his admiration for Rapuano before talking about the balk. "It's a shame, because you've got an All-Star reliever up there, you've got Adam Dunn in the box, the crowd was going crazy. It's a great atmosphere, and you're going to call a balk to end the game? I just don't see it."
Crow thought he stepped back off the mound, but he couldn't hear Rapuano's exact explanation. Yost was told Crow turned his shoulder before stepping off.
Whatever the explanation, the White Sox happily will take this odd win and hope it's a start of good fortune to come within the division.
"An interesting way to win," said Pierzynski, whose team is 5-1 in its last six games. "It's just as good as a walk-off hit or a home run."
"Kind of the White Sox way, walk-off balk," said Buehrle, who notched his 12th quality start. "We've had a couple wild pitches we've won on or tied the game. Hey, we've got to take it any way we can."