CHICAGO -- First, let's deal with the highly unusual during the 7-3 White Sox victory over the Athletics on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
In the seventh inning, after A.J. Pierzynski opened the frame with a single off reliever Jerry Blevins, he moved from first all the way home on Alexei Ramirez's routine grounder to shortstop Cliff Pennington. Third baseman Adam Rosales and Pennington bumped into each other on the play, leaving third base open, and when catcher Derek Norris tried too late to cover third, he was caught in no-man's land and Pierzynski raced home.
Then, there were the more conventional contributions from Pierzynski as the White Sox (62-51) increased their lead to two games over the Tigers in the American League Central courtesy of Texas' 8-3 victory in Arlington. Pierzynski broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth with a two-run, opposite-field home run off Oakland starter Bartolo Colon (9-9), sparking a five-run uprising for the South Siders.
And Pierzynski once again did an exceptional job of game-calling with first-year starter Chris Sale (14-3) on the mound.
Sale struck out two in each of the first five innings and finished with 11 over 6 2/3 innings.. As Sale exited the mound in the seventh, the left-hander stopped and gave catcher Pierzynski a quick slap on the back.
It was a physical sign of appreciation for Pierzynski's work with the bat, glove and his legs.
"He's in every game. He knows the game so well," said Sale of Pierzynski. "In that seventh inning, he was on first base, then second base, third base and he scores. That's just him. That's being heads-up in that situation. Another home run, another home run. It's big."
"You can't really worry about the numbers or what's going on," Pierzynski said. "You look up and at the end of the year, the numbers will be what they are supposed to be. There's no getting ahead of yourself. You can't force things to happen a certain way. You have to go out and play."
While Sale was extolling Pierzynski's baseball virtues, there was plenty of praise to go around for the 23-year-old hurler. He became the second White Sox starter this season to strike out at least 10 without issuing a walk, joining Jake Peavy's effort from June 30 at Yankee Stadium.
He improved to 6-0 with a 1.17 ERA over his last seven home starts, striking out 50 and walking six in 54 innings during that stretch. Sale posted his third double-digit strikeout effort of '12, adding on to 15 against the Rays on May 28 and 11 against the Mariners on April 20.
Just about Sale's only issue Sunday, aside from Jonny Gomes and Rosales' solo homers, was tweaking his left knee while running to corral Pennington's infield single to the left of the mound in the fifth. Much like the Oakland hitters, this play didn't slow down Sale.
"Good things happen when you fill up the zone, throw strikes," said Sale, who threw 79 of his 114 pitches for strikes. "You start falling behind counts and get into hitters' counts, they'll hurt you. They're a hot team. They put things together and play the game well. You just got to be sharp and on the top of your game."
"More and more confident as he goes along for a young pitcher," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin of Sale. "He's having quite a year. On top of that, he's got great stuff."
Those 6 2/3 innings pitched by Sale put him at a single-season career high of 138 2/3. But Sale appears poised to finish strong, possibly even making a run at the AL Cy Young, which he won't consider at this moment.
"Maybe at the end of the season when it's all said and done, but right now I still have a job to do," Sale said. "If I start looking at that kind of stuff, you lose what's going on in front of you and start slipping a little bit. The hardest part still is ahead of us."
"I'd put him up there with anybody," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his ace. "He's got great stuff, great competitor, everything you want. He's young, but he's still one of the best guys in the league."
Adam Dunn's sacrifice fly, Dewayne Wise's single and Gordon Beckham's two run-single after an intentional walk to Alejandro De Aza in the sixth joined Pierzynski's blast in completing the White Sox scoring. After being jammed by Colon in his first two at-bats, Pierzynski committed to looking for something up out over the plate and away and turned that particular pitch into his 23rd homer. He's tied with Carlton Fisk for the third-most homers in a single-season by a White Sox catcher.
This long ball seemed to be quite crowd-pleasing for the 25,106 in attendance, but it didn't get the same rousing reaction as Pierzynski using his wheels in the seventh. Pierzynski had seen this sort of play happen before, only on a bunt play with a fast guy on first when Buck Showalter managed the Rangers.
"Not that I'm fast," Pierzynski said. "As soon as I hit second, I saw Pennington and Rosales, they kind of both ran into each other. I figured I would try for third with one out. When I looked up, I saw that Norris was kind of in no-man's land between third and [Chris] Carter was standing on first. So I figured I'd try and luckily it worked out."
"We didn't cover that very well," Melvin said. "So that doesn't sit very well with anybody."