Big win puts Sox back into second place
Konerko, Buehrle lead way as two-game slide ends
CHICAGO -- This is exactly what a team making a push up the division ladder is supposed to do.
Shake off an early deficit against a last-place team, soundly thump said squad into submission and avoid any kind of extended losing streak against divisional opponents.
The White Sox succeeded on all three fronts on Tuesday thanks to the effort of starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and the offensive pop of first baseman and team captain Paul Konerko. Konerko set career highs with three home runs and seven RBIs as the White Sox came from behind to defeat the Indians, 10-6, at U.S. Cellular Field.
With the victory, the White Sox (43-40) climbed into second place in the American League Central, one-half game ahead of the Twins and two games behind the first-place Tigers. A loss would have been the South Siders' third in a row, marking the team's longest losing streak in a month. The previous two losses occurred on the road against the Royals, but the White Sox now have won eight of their last 10 games.
"The way we are playing now, this is how we expected to play out of Spring Training," Buehrle said. "[We're] fortunate our division is not the best and one team is not running away with it."
On Tuesday, Buehrle was somewhat fortunate that he had Konerko on his side.
Konerko tallied a solo home run in the second, a grand slam in the sixth and a two-run blast in the seventh, notching a career-high seven RBI night.
Konerko's biggest of the three shots came in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded. No stranger to bases-loaded situations in his 13-year career, Konerko launched a 1-1 offering from Indians reliever Chris Perez over the left-field wall, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 advantage. In the process, Perez spoiled what would have been a solid outing from Indians starter Jeremy Sowers. Sowers (2-7) went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits.
"I was going for the outside corner," Perez said. "It tailed back over, and he just got it. It was a big point in the game, obviously. If I make one pitch and get a ground ball, it's a good game for Jeremy."
Konerko entered Tuesday's contest batting .361 (52-for-144) with the bases loaded over his career. This season, he is now 5-for-8 with 14 RBIs with the bases loaded, but he wasn't thinking much about those numbers after the game.
"I'm glad I got Mark some runs tonight," Konerko said. "He was begging in the dugout."
The cushion, which grew even larger thanks to a four-run seventh, was more than enough for Buehrle, who earned his fourth All-Star Game nomination earlier in the week. Buehrle worked a perfect seventh inning before giving way to the bullpen. He wasn't dominant, but he went seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits while striking out three and walking one.
"Another typical Buehrle day," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Buehrle allowed a solo home run to Grady Sizemore in the first inning, an RBI single to Travis Hafner in the fourth and a solo homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the sixth, minimizing big innings and keeping the contest close for Konerko's outburst.
Buehrle was asked afterward if he owed Konerko one for bopping three home runs and insuring that Buehrle (9-2) would collect his ninth victory of the season.
"Owe him one? For what?" Buehrle asked. "Just the grand slam. The other two were throw-ins. After he hit the third one, I said, 'Come on. Can't you save that for when I need a couple of runs?' It's nice to see we are swinging the bats well at home.
"This is the kind of game I'm used to seeing at home, getting guys on and hitting home runs. Hopefully we can continue it at home."
Konerko registered his 24th career multi-homer game and hit his eighth career grand slam, tying him for second place in White Sox history with Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas. He is now two behind franchise leader Robin Ventura. With 57 RBIs this season, Konerko is only five away from matching his season total from a disappointing 2008 campaign.
"When you're doing bad and things aren't going your way, it's as bad as it gets," Konerko said. "It just seems terrible. It seems like you're never going to get back to where you want to get to sometimes. But you keep grinding. You just kind of hang your hat on the fact that you've done a lot more good than bad."
The White Sox also received a two-run home run from Alexei Ramirez in the seventh off Indians reliever Winston Abreu. Three batters later, Konerko sent his third home run into the left-field bullpen, leading to his second curtain call of the night on the top steps of the dugout.
Konerko said no one on the diamond would be thinking about his three dingers come Wednesday's game. The more important number was five. That's how many games the White Sox have remaining -- all against AL Central opponents -- before heading into the All-Star break.
"We think our best baseball is ahead of us," Konerko said. "So we've got to keep after it, because I think we're getting better as we go here. We said all year if we were still in it at the break, we would be a good team the second half, and I think everybody is starting to believe that."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.