Richard's first keeps White Sox in front
Lefty notches win No. 1 as Chicago holds one-game lead
CHICAGO -- As good as the White Sox offense continued to be on Tuesday, it was not the center of attention.
The spotlight this time belonged to Clayton Richard.
The left-handed rookie displayed the kind of talent that made him a highly touted prospect in the White Sox system, and, more importantly, he kept the White Sox one game ahead of the Twins in the American League Central standings.
Richard tossed six shutout innings and surrendered only five hits on his way to a 5-0 win over the Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field. It was the first win of his Major League career.
Richard (1-2) only struck out two batters, but he issued just one walk and mostly kept the ball on the ground and in the infield.
Perhaps it was Richard's nerves acting up in the first inning when Ichiro Suzuki hit a line drive to the mound that the lefty picked up and threw away. The error allowed Ichiro to advance to second.
Richard then gave up a single to Miguel Cairo to put two runners on for Raul Ibanez, who has dominated the White Sox in his career. But Richard had an answer.
Ibanez hit a hard grounder to first baseman Nick Swisher, who stepped on the bag and threw home to A.J. Pierzynski in time to get Ichiro out at the plate.
"It was huge," Richard said of the double play. "First and third with no outs is a tough situation to get in. And Swish made a great play. And at the back end of that, A.J. did a really good job of putting the tag down."
"It got us out of that inning," Pierzynski added. "If you can get out of that inning with minimum damage, it's huge. It was a great play by Swish to catch it, step on the base and get it to me as fast as he could, especially with Ichiro running -- just an all-around great baseball play."
From that point on, Richard was in control. He has the game ball and the lineup card to prove it.
"Things fell into place a little better and breaks were falling our way a little bit," Richard said. "I think everyone touched the ball today on defense, and everyone did their part. That always helps a pitcher, when the defense plays that well behind you."
The offense, which scored 26 runs over the previous two games with a surge of home runs, got it done with 14 hits, including only two that left the park.
Swisher and Jim Thome swatted solo home runs in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez (7-8), who was chased out of the game after five frames.
The rest of the scoring was done the old-fashioned way -- moving runners over, stealing bases and coming up with timely hits.
"That's what you gotta do," Pierzynski said. "You're not always gonna hit home runs. It's nice to hit home runs, because it's a good feeling and people get to watch fireworks, but at the same time, you gotta find a way to build runs. And we did that a couple times today, moving guys over and getting guys in."
The White Sox (72-53), who have won seven of their last eight games, will look to sweep the Mariners in the finale on Wednesday. The South Siders are hitting .326 as a team against Seattle and have outscored them 32-17 in five games this season.
Tuesday's win also was a landmark of sorts for the White Sox. Their 72nd victory equals their win total from the 2007 season. Only Tampa Bay has had a greater improvement in their winning percentage from 2007 to 2008.
Richard may have pitched well enough on Tuesday to get the starting nod the next time his spot comes up in the rotation, but White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was not ready to set anything in stone.
"We are going to find out if he can do that, or we will call somebody up," Guillen said. "I think either way, can be [Lance] Broadway or him, I will feel comfortable."
That's good news for the White Sox, who need to keep up their momentum to stay ahead of the Twins. Minnesota beat Oakland, 13-2, on Tuesday night.
"It seems like right now all cylinders are clicking," Swisher said. "For us, we are getting it from batters one through nine, on the hill and A.J. is doing a good job back there behind the plate. It's a lot of fun right now."
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.