White Sox drop second straight to Twins
Contreras gives up game-deciding three-run homer
CHICAGO -- It might be tough for White Sox supporters to take even the quickest glance at the current American League standings, whether they peruse the Central Division or the Wild Card, after the South Siders dropped a 4-3 decision to Minnesota on Tuesday night before the 10th straight sellout at U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox sixth loss in seven games and 11th in their last 14 kept them at a season-high 7 1/2 games behind the Tigers (67-33), who lost a rare road contest in Cleveland. But Minnesota's 23rd victory in its last 29 games, coupled with a victory for the Yankees (58-40) in Texas, moved three teams within one game of the AL Wild Card lead.
This latest scenario becomes a bit nerve-wracking for a team falling below 20 games over .500 for the first time since June 18. But according to White Sox first baseman and captain Paul Konerko, the standings should not be avoided -- not even during a 2-9 run of futility since the All-Star break.
In fact, Konerko believes the tight races serve as a bit of a motivational tool.
"To not look at the standings and not pay attention is like not living in reality," Konerko said. "You always need to be conscious of what's going on around you. It should give you reason to go out and play hard.
"I pay attention every day, as you should pay attention. That's how I look at it. It's not too much to ask that you should pay attention and then go out and play well."
On Tuesday, the White Sox (59-40) performed just well enough to lose a very well-played pitchers' duel between Johan Santana (12-5) and Jose Contreras (9-3). The game was deadlocked at 1 moving into the seventh, on the strength of Jason Kubel's eighth home run in the second off Contreras and Jim Thome's 33rd home run in the first -- a titanic 447-foot blast to center.
Both starters were on alert that whoever flinched first could be on the losing end of the outcome. It was Contreras who was touched up in the seventh, by ninth-place hitter Jason Bartlett, of all people.
Rondell White reached base with a one-out single, and Jason Tyner beat out a bunt to put runners on first and second, although the replays appeared to show Contreras threw out Tyner at first by a split-second. Neither Contreras, Konerko nor manager Ozzie Guillen complained about first-base umpire Tim Tschida's call after the game.
Contreras, who has lost three straight decisions since setting a franchise record by winning 17 straight, jumped ahead of Bartlett with two quick strikes. But Bartlett hit the next pitch up in his eyes for a 347-foot, three-run home run to left, his first long ball since Sept. 13, 2005. Bartlett's rare home run didn't upset Contreras as much as his pitch selection in that at-bat.
"I'm mad because it was 0-2 and the pitch I made was the wrong pitch in that situation," said Contreras through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr., after allowing four runs on seven hits over seven innings, striking out five. "It was the right choice of pitches, but the pitch didn't go where it was supposed to go and he hit a home run."
"It's frustrating when you see that," Guillen added. "I expect that from a lot of people, but I never expect that kid to hit a home run, and he did."
To the White Sox credit, they bounced back in the bottom half of the seventh on Joe Crede's 21st home run to cut the lead to one. The White Sox put two runners on base with one out in the ninth off closer Joe Nathan (20th save), but Michael Cuddyer made a sliding catch of pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski's fly ball to right and pinch-hitter Alex Cintron grounded out to Bartlett to guarantee the White Sox their fifth straight series loss.
Santana improved to 8-1 with a 1.35 ERA over his last 10 starts against the White Sox, although Guillen's crew took a good approach against the Cy Young Award winner. A few breaks here and there, such as Tadahito Iguchi beating Cuddyer's laser-like throw to third on Thome's one-out single to right in the sixth, and the final score could have been reversed.
"There's a little frustration on everybody's part," Crede said. "These are games I think we should win. Everybody in here is professional enough to keep their heads up."
"We're battling. We're in games," Thome added. "We're trying to get there. We're just not able to do it right now."
If the Twins pull off the sweep with a Wednesday afternoon victory, the White Sox could slip into a first-place or second-place tie for the Wild Card, depending on the Yankees' result in Arlington on Wednesday night. But with 62 games remaining after this series finale, there's still no reason to worry about the standings.
As Konerko explained, knowing where his team stands simply is part of the job. And as the White Sox learned last year, big division leads can quickly be cut into over a short period of time.
"If you have a nice lead in the division or Wild Card, it should be motivation to finish it off and win it," Konerko said. "If you are doing what we are doing right now, sitting one game up or tied, that should be motivation to kick it in gear and go."
"We have to keep the lead tight," Contreras added. "I think Detroit has to give in one day, because they have played so perfectly. When they do, all the teams who want to compete have to take advantage of it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.