Rally falls painfully short in loss to Cubs
Pierzynski's double play on first pitch ends late threat
CHICAGO -- Bases loaded, one out. White Sox are trailing by one in the eighth inning of a heated contest against their North Side rivals before a sellout crowd of 39,015 at U.S. Cellular Field.
And there was pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, a proven clutch performer who thrives on game-deciding situations, coming to the plate to face Sean Marshall, the Cubs' relatively inexperienced starter-turned-reliever. It was a situation that seemingly had White Sox victory written all over it.
One pitch later, and those hopes for a third straight White Sox win had been instantly dashed, turning instead into a 5-4 victory for Lou Piniella's squad and giving the Cubs a 35-34 edge in the all-time series.
Pierzynski swung at Marshall's first pitch and hit a hard ground ball to Derrek Lee. The Cubs' slick-fielding first baseman grabbed the ball, fired a strike to catcher Geovany Soto to force Jermaine Dye and then Soto made a perfect throw back to Lee to end the inning.
Marshall threw Pierzynski a curveball that was slightly elevated, which fit right into Pierzynski's plan of attack coming off of the bench.
"I was looking for a pitch up and he threw me a high curveball," Pierzynski said. "He's known for having a good breaking ball. I hit it hard and hit it right at the wrong guy. I hit it three feet to the left or three feet to the right, and we are shaking hands right now.
"Pinch-hitting is tough. Marshall has a good curveball and he threw it high. Look at the replay. It's high, right down the middle. I hit it good. Sometimes stuff happens. What can you do?"
Entering the eighth inning, it didn't look as if the White Sox (35-38) would even have a chance to put the go-ahead run on base. Not with the way Randy Wells (2-3) was dealing.
Wells yielded a first-inning home run to Dye, his 17th, and a fourth-inning, opposite-field blast to Jim Thome, his 13th, but allowed only three other hits over his seven innings. Wells struck out six and walked two, including an intentional walk to Thome with Scott Podsednik on second and two outs in the sixth, setting up Paul Konerko's fielder's-choice grounder to end the frame.
With Wells' effort, opposing pitchers who have faced the White Sox for the first time in 2009 are now 10-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 16 starts.
"We had our opportunity, but we didn't take advantage," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of his offense's showing in Wells' first start during this electric Interleague series.
Jose Contreras (2-7) turned in his fourth straight start that gave the White Sox a chance to win, minus two mistakes. Jake Fox, who is 6-for-8 in his last two games against American League Central opponents, launched a two-run home run in the fourth to give the Cubs (35-35) a brief 2-1 lead.
It was Soto's three-run shot with one out in the top of the seventh that provided the eventual margin of victory.
"Two pitches that cost us the game," said Contreras through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez, after the right-hander gave up four earned runs on seven hits over 7 1/3 innings, fanning eight, and stayed in the game despite having brief back spasms following a strikeout of Kosuke Fukudome to open the sixth. "I just left it up in the zone."
"Another good outing," said Guillen, who checked on Contreras with White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider in the sixth, but deemed him strong enough to stay on the mound. "He just made one bad pitch. It cost us the game, but he threw very well."
Fox's single and Konerko's error on Mike Fontenot's grounder set up Soto's 0-1 blast. But Carlos Marmol's wild streak almost helped the White Sox fight their way back.
Marmol walked Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez on full-count pitches to begin the eighth inning. The bases then became loaded with one out when neither left fielder Alfonso Soriano nor shortstop Andres Blanco could locate Dye's pop fly single.
Thome's double that deflected off Lee's glove scored two and put runners on second and third, with an intentional walk issued by Marmol to Konerko re-loading the bases with one out. That free pass led Guillen to use Pierzynski in place of right-handed-hitting Ramon Castro, and led Piniella to turn to Marshall, the southpaw.
Although Guillen couldn't fault Pierzynski's aggressiveness, he slightly disagreed with the approach of his catcher.
"Bad at-bat -- I think it was a bad at-bat," Guillen said. "He might have been looking breaking ball, but the breaking ball wasn't a strike and it ended up the wrong way for us."
There are no moral victories for a White Sox squad trying to get to .500, chase down Detroit's six-game lead in the AL Central and assert itself on this six-game homestand for which the Sox now stand at 2-2. But Friday's series opener was a well-played contest, which closed out when Podsednik took a called third strike from Kevin Gregg (12th save) with pinch-hitter Josh Fields on first base.
If Pierzynski's at-bat had turned out differently, it would have been White Sox closer Bobby Jenks in the game and the White Sox holding the 2-1 series lead over the Cubs.
"That's such a fine line," said Konerko of Pierzynski's at-bat. "It's like a sixteenth of an inch. The ball is in the air or down the line. That's the way it goes."
"[Lee] is a Gold Glove first baseman, but I hit it and I was just like, 'Run as hard as you can, and hopefully someone makes a mistake,'" Pierzynski said. "But they didn't, so we will get them tomorrow."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.