In one inning, no-hitter, lead vanishes
Two-run seventh dooms Danks, White Sox fall from first place
CHICAGO -- Carrying a no-hitter past the fifth inning has become the norm rather than the exception for White Sox southpaw John Danks.
In fact, Monday's effort in the series finale of a four-game set with the Boston Red Sox at U.S. Cellular Field marked the fourth time during this season alone that Danks has gone at least five without allowing an opposing hit. But this particular occasion had the markings of something special for the team's most consistent starter.
Danks retired the first 17 Red Sox hitters he faced before hitting Jacoby Ellsbury with a 1-1 pitch in the sixth. And in the dog days of August, when starters' stuff often drops, Danks' fastball checked in regularly at 94-95 mph and might have been the best he had since his April debut.
Unfortunately for Danks, he had a mere one-run lead to work with while trying to make history. Not only did Danks lose his no-hitter with one out in the seventh on Kevin Youkilis' broken-bat single, but he basically lost the game two batters later during Boston's 5-1 victory before 32,634.
The loss gave the White Sox (65-52) a four-game split with the Red Sox (68-51), and, coupled with the Twins' 4-0 victory over the Yankees, dropped Chicago back to one-half game behind Minnesota (66-52) in the American League Central.
But Monday's loss was not one the White Sox gave away. It was a pitchers' battle between Danks (9-5) and Josh Beckett (11-8), with the South Siders coming up a little bit short. Nick Swisher, who knocked out two of the seven hits garnered off Beckett in eight innings, simplified the loss down to two specific moments.
"It was two hits: the double by [J.D.] Drew and the double by [Jed] Lowrie, and that was the game right there," said Swisher, speaking of Boston's pair of two-run doubles. "It wasn't like we made five errors or our pitchers didn't get the job done. We just didn't get as many runs as we would have liked."
Lowrie's double came off of Matt Thornton with the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth. It scored Mike Lowell and Jason Bay, providing Jonathan Papelbon with a little room to work while closing out the victory via a perfect ninth.
That double didn't have near the impact as Drew's shot in the seventh. Drew laced an 0-1 offering into left-center, scoring Youkilis and Lowell, who walked on five pitches after Youkilis broke up the no-hitter, and erasing a 1-0 deficit.
Drew's two-out run production really was the lone mistake made over seven innings by Danks, who tied a career high with nine strikeouts, and didn't give up anything close to a hit over 6 1/3 innings.
"I didn't see anything that wasn't working," said Boston manager Terry Francona of the impressive work turned in by Danks, who lost for the first time since May 24. "When we got into their bullpen, we were better off. I don't care who they were bringing in there."
"J.D. Drew is one of the best hitters this year in baseball," added Danks, who threw 67 of his 103 pitches for strikes, walking two. "I left the ball out over the plate and he did what he's supposed to do."
Beckett pretty much matched Danks' dominance by scattering the seven hits, striking out eight and not issuing a walk. The White Sox scored on A.J. Pierzynski's sacrifice fly in the third, but had just one more viable scoring chance, when Coco Crisp made a tumbling catch of Jim Thome's shot to center to end the sixth with Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye on base.
For those fans who love offensive fireworks, this was not the game for them.
"Yeah, they pitched great," Pierzynski said. "It's a shame John couldn't have got a win, but Beckett pitched really well. That's what he does. He's power-power, and he's got four above average pitches, and he doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes."
"You see this kid throwing the ball real well, then all of a sudden one hitter just turned everything around," added White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Danks' tough fate. "He did a tremendous job once again. He took the ball against one of the best pitchers in the game and competed against him and gave us a chance to win. Unfortunately, he [wasn't] good enough."
This four-game series, which finished with the Red Sox holding a 19-14 edge in runs scored, certainly was leaps and bounds better than the four-game sweep pulled off by Boston last year in Chicago by a 46-7 margin. Then again, the White Sox improvement has been firmly established during countless previous moments throughout the 2008 campaign.
Over the past four days, the White Sox have spent two in first place and two in second. Pierzynski admitted it would be nice for Chicago to get hot and establish a little AL Central control, but with the way both teams fight and compete, he knows this race will go down to the final weeks or days.
If Danks continues to throw like he did on Monday, a microcosm of his entire breakout season, the White Sox odds for winning a division title certainly will increase.
"That was as good as we've seen him. That was impressive," said Francona of Danks. "He had everything working."
"Obviously, you can't help but notice it," added Danks of the brush with a no-hitter. "My main goal was just to get us into the eighth inning with the lead. Of course, I wasn't able to do that. I knew there wasn't much room for error with Beckett. He's a very proven pitcher and he had his 'A' stuff today."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.