White Sox ease past Yanks in opener
Thome, Konerko go deep; Garland notches fourth win
CHICAGO -- Hitting sixth in the White Sox lineup can't exactly be considered familiar territory for Paul Konerko, one of the South Siders' most powerful offensive forces and one of the American League's top run producers over the past three seasons.
But when a team struggles as a unit to find offensive consistency on a daily basis, Konerko understands changes usually are in the offing.
"Anyone who has played this game knows there are times when you leave everything the same and times when you have to shake up things," said Konerko, after leading the White Sox 10-hit attack to a 6-4 victory over the Yankees on Monday before 32,703 at U.S. Cellular Field, starting off a seven-game homestand on a victorious note.
"I really don't care," Konerko added. "I've always felt if you get your four at-bats, you can do damage no matter where you hit."
Familiar faces, other than Konerko, found themselves in new lineup places for the opener of a four-game set with a tired Yankees squad. Joe Crede dropped down to ninth in the order for the first time in 2007, finishing 0-for-4. Crede also scored one run and drove in one against New York starter Matt DeSalvo (1-3) -- a Minor League callup to take Roger Clemens' planned rotation spot for one night.
A.J. Pierzynski batted fifth for the sixth time this season, one spot ahead of Konerko. Always thinking about baseball's big picture, Konerko pointed out how switching himself and Pierzynski gives a lefty-righty mix right down to the eighth and ninth spot in the White Sox order, making it tougher on opposing pitchers, especially late-inning relievers possibly sent in to retire back-to-back right-handed hitters with the game on the line.
Konerko also thrived in his new spot, breaking out of an 0-for-11 funk with three hits and two runs scored. The White Sox first baseman launched his eighth home run with one out in the seventh -- just his second home run in his last 22 home games -- after barely missing an earlier long ball on a deep fly ball caught by Hideki Matsui in the fourth.
The overall offensive outburst, which included Jim Thome's eighth home run and the 480th of his illustrious career, provided plenty of support for Jon Garland (4-3), who matched a season high by working 8 1/3 innings. Garland was taken to 30 pitches by the Yankees (24-31) in the first frame, but he limited them to one earned run and worked into the ninth with the help of three double plays turned behind him.
"Garland was outstanding," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of his right-hander, who allowed seven hits, while fanning three and walking three. "When his sinker is working, he's always one pitch away to get out of the inning."
"That's the big story for our team tonight," added Konerko of Garland, who has a 4-1 mark and 3.35 ERA over his last six starts. "He had something like 30 pitches in the first inning and worked into the ninth against a great lineup. That's pretty impressive right there."
Unfortunately, the same kudos could not be thrown to reliever Matt Thornton, who struggled in relief of Garland. After Garland exited at a season-high 119 pitches, with Matsui on second, Thornton proceeded to walk Robinson Cano and give up a Josh Phelps run-scoring single.
Guillen didn't waste any time summoning closer Bobby Jenks, who completed his 15th consecutive save and his 16th in 17 opportunities. The Yankees scored a third run on a Melky Cabrera sacrifice fly and a fourth on a throwing error by Tadahito Iguchi, who had two miscues but came within two of matching the single-game assist record for AL second basemen with 10 on Monday.
With the tying run at the plate in the form of Derek Jeter, Jenks induced a ground ball to shortstop Juan Uribe to complete the victory for the White Sox (26-27). Thornton's struggles were greeted with a mixed postgame reaction from Guillen and Garland.
"If your bullpen can't hold that lead, we have to flip-flop," Guillen said. "We have to call someone from Triple-A and change everything in the bullpen and keep Bobby. Leading 6-1, one out and one guy on base, and I have to bring in the closer. Everyone who wants to manage, please think about it. You think this thing is easy, think about this before you make a decision."
"They still have great arms and know what to do when they come in," Garland added. "Things aren't going their way right now. It happens to all of us. But there are pretty good guys down there, and they will turn it around and be fine."
This same feeling of hope has been echoed for Konerko, who raised his average to .229 with Monday's effort. Guillen rightfully believes his captain won't finish the 2007 campaign with a .229 average or just 10 home runs, but he's also a superstitious leader.
Don't be surprised if Konerko stays in the lineup's six-hole, as long as he continues to hit and the team continues to win.
"It worked tonight," said Konerko with a smile. "The ninth inning had a little suspense, but we got the win.
"We've been scraping and battling, but we haven't exactly broken out yet. There have been some games here and there where we've scored some runs. We know it's a big hole to dig out of, but our theory is you can't be that bad for that long. Sooner or later, we are going to bust out."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.