CHICAGO -- The Mariners appeared to have a miraculous ninth-consecutive victory in their grasp Friday night until the most painful of endings -- an outfield collision between Eric Thames and Michael Saunders -- allowed the White Sox to pull out a wild 9-8 win at U.S. Cellular Field.
This one hurt because Thames and Saunders ran into each other and the fence at full throttle. It hurt because the impact knocked the ball out of Thames' glove as he spun around, allowing the winning run to score on Paul Konerko's deep drive.
And it hurt because the Mariners had just erupted to score six runs in the top of the ninth to take an 8-7 lead and then sent rock-solid closer Tom Wilhelmsen out to finish off what would have been an incredible win in their midseason revival.
But all those pains pointed out something very positive as well, with the Mariners showing a never-say-die attitude that they plan to continue building on with a young squad that had the American League Central-leading White Sox on the ropes with their surprising comeback.
"It was good because we didn't quit," said left fielder Trayvon Robinson, whose 3-for-4 night included his first home run in the second as well as a double in the ninth-inning rally. "We went and played every last out we could in this game. We didn't get the win, but a lot of good things happened. And we're just going to keep going, just feeding off what we did today and keep going."
The game-ending play left Saunders in the training room after being shaken up and Thames just shaking his head after he collected himself. With runners on first and second and one out -- the White Sox having already tied the game back up on an RBI single by Kevin Youkilis -- Konerko launched a deep drive to the right-center gap.
Thames, coming from his right-field spot, gloved the ball just as Saunders crashed into him.
"It was tough because it was so loud, so communication was tough," said Thames. "I had a pretty good bead on it and Saundo thought he had a good bead on it. I saw him running, but I looked up and saw it so I went for it and I caught it, but my elbow hit him. That was a pretty bad collision. I caught it, hit the wall and spun around the ball just ... pshhew."
For Thames, who won two games with walk-off hits last week, the sight of the ball popping loose was tough to swallow.
"After I caught it and the collision, I'm taken aback by all that momentum," he said. "I'm on the ground and I just feel the ball shoot out and go all the way into center field and I can't do anything. That was rough, because we just put up a six-spot in the ninth inning. But that's the game."
Konerko said he didn't think the ball would be caught when he hit it.
"Both those guys can run," he said. "When I first hit it, I thought it was good. But even if one of those guys catches it, you've got to feel that we'll score the guy from second on that because they're both down."
"You have to appreciate the way they went after the baseball," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "That says so much to me and says a lot about our kids."
The White Sox have been nearly as hot as the Mariners of late, having just swept the Yankees and now claiming 19 of their last 24 at home. They improved to 69-55, while Seattle fell to 61-65 after closing out their last homestand with eight straight wins.
Trailing 7-2, Seattle took advantage of four hits and three walks against a trio of White Sox relievers in the ninth, with John Jaso delivering the go-ahead blow with a two-out single to take the late lead.
A leadoff home run by Jesus Montero off reliever Philip Humber, the White Sox hurler who beat Seattle with a perfect game on April 21, got the comeback started.
Robinson then doubled off Donnie Veal before Dustin Ackley's two-run single with the bases loaded cut the lead to 7-5. Kyle Seager made it a one-run game with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly off White Sox closer Addison Reed and Jaso came through with a single to right to score the tying run, with Saunders sprinting home on a throwing error by right fielder Alex Rios.
"It was a great comeback by our guys," said Wedge. "That's what I'm thinking about right now. ... The fight of our position players and what they did to come back was just unbelievable effort."
Jason Vargas has been one of Seattle's brightest lights with a team-leading 13 wins, but he lasted just four innings -- his shortest stint of the season -- while getting roughed up for six runs on seven hits, including two home runs by Adam Dunn and another by Alexei Ramirez.
"They just didn't miss mistakes tonight," said Vargas, has yet to beat the White Sox in seven career appearances, remaining 0-1 with a 7.85 ERA while giving up nine home runs in 28 2/3 innings.
And yet, in the end, it took everything the White Sox had to pull this one out as the Mariners continued showing the fight that still has them tied with Oakland for the best record in the AL since the All-Star break at 25-14.
"The first thing I realized when I got here was this team competes and we grind it out," said Thames, acquired in a July 30 trade from Toronto. "Guys do whatever it takes. That's why this is special."