White Sox walk off behind Pierzynski
Catcher's home run sends Chicago to seventh straight win
CHICAGO -- Before A.J. Pierzynski stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning during Wednesday night's series finale against the Indians, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told him not to try to be a hero in front of the home faithful with the game tied.
Pierzynski didn't quite follow his instructions, which was a lucky thing for the fans remaining at U.S. Cellular Field.
Instead, the White Sox catcher opted for a walk-off home run to left-center field on the first pitch from Masa Kobayashi, beating a possible rain delay and completing a three-game sweep of the Indians with a 6-5 victory. It was Pierzynski's second home run on the night and the White Sox third walk-off long ball this year.
It was a special moment that resulted in a double shot of postgame shaving cream for Pierzynski, now becoming a South Side ritual after game-ending plays. Those shots followed a thorough beatdown in celebration administered by his teammates as Pierzynski crossed home plate, marking the White Sox ninth straight victory at U.S. Cellular.
"I don't know if it was that dramatic of a home run," said Pierzynski with a laugh. "But it's always fun when you hit a home run in the ninth or 10th inning to win a game. It's a good feeling to see all your teammates there and how excited everyone is, especially with the way the rain was about to start pouring."
The White Sox, who moved a season-high 14 games over .500 at 49-35, carried a rare lead into the ninth inning earned against American League Central archnemesis C.C. Sabathia. The big left-hander continues to be the target of trade talks, with the Indians (37-48) currently sitting 12 1/2 games behind Guillen's crew, but Sabathia battled through eight innings and 123 pitches on Wednesday. He allowed four earned runs, a great showing for the White Sox, who have a 4-14 record against Sabathia overall.
Sabathia allowed home runs to Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye (No. 19) in the first and then lost a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Brian Anderson lined a two-run double to left-center on a 2-1 pitch. That slim advantage held up until the ninth, when Grady Sizemore launched his second home run of the game and 21st of the season on a 1-1 pitch from reliever Scott Linebrink to open the inning.
Linebrink pitched in a fourth straight game, while closer Bobby Jenks was unavailable for a third consecutive night due to soreness on the upper left side of his back. The AL's top slugger caught up with Linebrink, but the veteran hurler also blamed himself for poor pitch location.
"You can't make mistakes to him," said Linebrink of his approach against Sizemore. "You certainly don't want to put him on the bases to lead off an inning in a close ballgame like that. The next thing you know, he's on second, in scoring position.
"That was a changeup in the zone, and he hit it. You want to be aggressive and go after him, but I have to make a better pitch right there."
Sizemore's power stroke gave Pierzynski a chance to lead off Wednesday's highlight reel with his 10th-inning heroics. And Pierzynski's home run made a winner of Adam Russell (2-0) for the second straight night.
Russell struck out one and gave up one hit in the 10th, as the 6-foot-8 rookie right-hander continues to serve as a White Sox good-luck charm.
"That's the first time I've had that nickname right there," said Russell with a laugh. "I guess we are starting a little trend, but guys might start calling me a vulture -- stealing all these wins. We are just playing good ball right now.
"There's no quit in this team. We get it done late in the game when it counts."
Getting it done late has become a calling card for the White Sox at home, where they have an amazing 30-11 record in 2008. They also maintained a 2 1/2-game lead over the Twins and dropped the recently surging Tigers to seven games back in the AL Central while improving to 24-11 in the division.
For good measure on Wednesday, Pierzynski's game-deciding home run even helped both teams avoid what looked to be a brief rain delay on the horizon.
"Rain was starting to come down -- thick rain, too -- and I was hoping it would hold off," Russell said. "Luckily, A.J. came through."
"These games you can win, every game means a lot at the end of the year," Linebrink continued. "It's what makes good teams. The offense comes through when pitching doesn't, and we are able to get a win."
"Well, it was great," Guillen added. "The momentum on this ballclub is great. I think it's special. The way we won last night, we know we always got a shot in the last inning. They did it again today. They faced one of the best pitchers in the game right now and did a tremendous job handling him."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.