Danks stars in White Sox win
Lefty leads Chicago over Oakland, continues dominance
CHICAGO -- Let's label the White Sox 4-3 victory over the Athletics on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field as a tribute to those from the South Side of Chicago who clearly were overlooked in this year's All-Star selection process.
Begin with the pitching, a particular category of excellence that has propelled the White Sox to a 51-37 record and a one-game lead in the American League Central over the seemingly unstoppable Twins.
John Danks improved to 6-4 with his sixth straight quality start and 12th of the 2008 campaign after giving up two runs on four hits over 6 1/3 innings. The southpaw is 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA in his last five starts and has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his 18 starts, the best in the Major Leagues for this statistical category. Yet he will be sitting at home in Texas when the American League faces off against the National League.
Then, there's Scott Linebrink, who has served as one of the game's top setup men during the first three months of this season. He was pressed into service as a closer on Sunday, with Bobby Jenks continuing to battle pain just below his left scapula.
Although Linebrink allowed one run in the ninth and had to sweat out a long fly ball to right field from Jack Cust with two on base to end this affair, he finished off his first save since May 25, 2007, while pitching for the Brewers. Linebrink's ERA checks in at 1.95, but he received no All-Star love from the AL players or manager Terry Francona.
In fact, not one pitcher from the staff with the lowest ERA in all of baseball was selected to play in the Midsummer Classic. Upsetting? No. Disconcerting or disappointing? Just a little bit.
"I can't believe we don't have a pitcher on the American League All-Star team," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "It's amazing how it all works -- and a shame again."
"This was a long shot anyway, just because the wins weren't there," Danks said of his All-Star prospects. "It would have been great to go, but at the same time, it will be great to be home for four days, rest up and get ready for the stretch run."
Danks already looks primed for the second half of the season, although he has one more first-half start in his home state of Texas this Saturday. He's clearly a different pitcher than the rookie who finished 1-7 with a 7.11 ERA after the 2007 All-Star break.
The A's (47-41) were unable to get a hit off Danks for the first five innings on Sunday, managing just two walks, before Gregorio Petit singled to open the sixth. Danks struck out a career-high nine and was dominant through the first six, before tiring a bit as he topped the 100-pitch mark in Sunday's heat and yielded Rob Bowen's two-run double in the seventh.
Jermaine Dye's first-inning running catch on Cust's drive to deep right and Carlos Quentin's grab against the wall on Mark Ellis' blast with one out in the sixth certainly provided Danks a little assistance.
"Our guys definitely made plays for me today," Danks said. "I felt like I had a pretty good fastball, especially in to righties. The rest was a little hit or miss."
"Early in the season, we did not score that many runs for him, so this kid should have a better record right now," added White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Danks, who has eight no-decisions. "He has been outstanding. Now, I know he can pitch in big situations against good ballclubs."
Three of the four runs scored by the White Sox came off Oakland ace Rich Harden, who lost for the first time in six decisions. An unearned run crossed the plate in the first courtesy of a bases-loaded walk issued to Joe Crede, after a throwing error by Petit extended the frame. And the South Siders scored two more in the fourth on Alexei Ramirez's single and Dewayne Wise's sacrifice fly.
Wise doubled and came home on Pierzynski's sacrifice fly to score an important insurance run in the seventh. Pierzynski is hitting .296 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs, clearly better numbers than those of Boston catcher Jason Varitek and comparable to a more deserving All-Star selection in Tampa Bay backstop Dioner Navarro.
Varitek received the players' support and Navarro emerged as one of Francona's six selections, leaving Pierzynski to take the high road over his snub.
"I'm not going to get into it because I'll say something I probably shouldn't," Pierzynski said. "It's a popularity contest, and I won't win those."
Sunday's victory raised the White Sox home record to 32-13, completed an 8-2 homestand and earned them a four-game split with the gritty A's. Danks' showing left his ERA at 2.52, keeping him third in the AL.
All-Star recognition would have been nice for any or all of these pitchers. In the long run, though, the individual parts don't matter as much as the sum of the White Sox whole.
"Team wins are there, and that's what we are focused on," Danks said.
"Yeah, we were joking if they can't take all of us, then none of us want to go," added Linebrink with a laugh. "So many of our guys are having such a great year, it's hard to signal out one or two."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.