White Sox swept away in the Bronx
Champs have lost five of their last six games
NEW YORK -- Put Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi on base a combined nine times, a goal the top two hitters in the White Sox order accomplished during Sunday's series finale at Yankee Stadium, and the odds quickly become heavily stacked in favor of a White Sox victory.
After all, the South Siders have what many consider to be baseball's most potent middle of the lineup, in Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye. But in Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Yankees before 54,781 at Yankee Stadium, that tenacious trio came up a little short in the big hit department.
Thome, Konerko and Dye finished 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including key at-bats with two runners on base in each of the seventh and ninth innings. The team featuring baseball's best average with runners in scoring position this season finished off the lost weekend with four hits in 32 at-bats in those very same situations.
The lack of clutch hitting helped the Yankees (53-36) complete their first three-game sweep of the White Sox (57-34) since May 27-29, 2002, and their first sweep of the South Siders in the Bronx since Oct. 1-3, 2001. It was the first series sweep suffered by the White Sox in 2006 and the first in a series of at least three games since Sept. 9-11, 2005, at the hands of the Angels in Chicago.
The White Sox left New York slightly encouraged by two strong efforts out of the three weekend contests. But they also hold a high level of frustration brought about by countless missed scoring opportunities.
"It's about clutch hitting and execution, and we didn't do either one," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team is 1-5 in its last six games. "We didn't get the big hit today."
"They got hits with guys on base and we didn't," added catcher A.J. Pierzynski of his team's futility in the clutch.
Pierzynski brought the White Sox within two runs leading off the eighth, launching his seventh home run into the right-field upper deck off of Kyle Farnsworth. Joe Crede and Brian Anderson followed with back-to-back singles, as Anderson pushed his average to at least .200 for the first time since April 10. Those hits also cued Mariano Rivera's entrance music.
Rivera retired Juan Uribe on a popup to second baseman Miguel Cairo, after Uribe was twice unable to bunt the runners over, and then ended the inning on Podsednik's double-play grounder. Iguchi, who equaled a career high with four hits, doubled off of Rivera to open the ninth, and a walk issued to Thome brought Konerko to the plate as the go-ahead run.
On an 0-2 pitch, Konerko bounced a grounder to shortstop Derek Jeter, who started a momentum-killing double play. Dye struck out on a high fastball to punctuate Rivera's two-inning save, his 21st in 2006 and the 400th of his illustrious career.
After Rivera's dynamic effort, Guillen picked one particular phrase to describe the fourth closer in baseball history to reach 400 saves.
"Hall of Fame," Guillen said. "On the field and off the field, Mariano is a Hall of Famer. Young players look up to him, the way he is and the way he performs and the way he treats people. I think Mariano is the perfect baseball player."
Having Rivera wriggle out of trouble wasn't truly disconcerting for the White Sox. It was the squandered chances against Jaret Wright (6-5), Ron Villone and Farnsworth that caused Sunday's issues.
At least two White Sox hitters reached base in every inning but the second and fourth, including the first three to start the game off of Wright. But Alex Rodriguez made two slick plays -- on a Konerko grounder, throwing out Iguchi at the plate, and a Dye shot turned into an around-the-horn double play -- limiting the first-inning production to one run. Rodriguez and Jeter hit home runs in the bottom of the first off of Freddy Garcia (10-6), giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
A couple of baserunning mishaps also squelched a potential comeback. With runners on first and third and one out in the third, Konerko appeared to drive in a run with a single to right. But Thome broke back toward first on the play to make sure the line drive went by Cairo and was then forced at second on right fielder Aaron Guiel's throw to Jeter.
"I don't have any problem with that," said Guillen of Thome. "He just froze when the ball got hit."
"Well, I broke back and I couldn't tell where he was," Thome added. "I was in no-man's land, and he got to the ball real quick."
Joe Crede also was thrown out at the plate, for the sixth inning's final out, on Uribe's single to left. Melky Cabrera's perfect strike produced his American League-leading eighth outfield assist.
Sunday's outcome moved the Yankees within three games of the White Sox for the AL Wild Card, while the White Sox head to Detroit trailing by 4 1/2 games in the American League Central. Standings are not a concern for the White Sox presently, not as much as playing a better brand of overall baseball.
The team took a collective step in the right direction Sunday, behind a strong finish from Garcia, who held the Yankees scoreless for the final three of his seven-inning outing. A productive step, that is, minus the knockout punch.
"We couldn't get that big hit with guys on base," said Podsednik, who finished with two hits, two walks and two runs scored. "That was the difference in the game."
"They played well all weekend long," added Thome of the Yankees. "When you get good pitching, timely hitting and give the ball to Mariano, you are going to win a lot of games, and that's what they did."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.