A.J.'s tenacious AB lifts White Sox
Two-run single helps trim AL Central deficit to 5 1/2 games
SEATTLE -- Crouched behind home plate at Safeco Field and looking out at the big Major League Baseball scoreboard in left-center field, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knew American League Central-leading Detroit had lost even before the start of Tuesday's series opener with the Mariners.
"It's up on the scoreboard, so of course you look," Pierzynski said. "You would have to be lying to yourself if you say you don't look, especially since it's plastered right there. And with me catching, every time I look up, there's a score."
The score originally witnessed by Pierzynski was a 10-run victory for the Royals at Comerica Park, their fourth straight over the suddenly struggling first-place Tigers. But the White Sox 6-3 victory was the outcome that was directly influenced by Pierzynski.
With the come-from-behind win, the White Sox (72-73) moved back within one game of .500 for the fifth time since Sept. 5. They have yet to get to the break-even point during this run.
Their division deficit dropped to 5 1/2 games behind Detroit (77-67), and six games in the loss column, although they stayed one game behind second-place Minnesota (73-72). Tuesday's effort gave the White Sox hope that an improbable comeback was possible, but the team needs consistency over the final two weeks instead of one or two wins in Seattle, followed by two or three losses.
"Hopefully, this thing continues," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team improved to 2-2 on its West Coast swing and has an 8-4 record in its last 12 games. "We play good for a couple of days and then bad for a week. That's the reason we are where we are."
If the White Sox were looking for a primary reason connected to their three-run victory over Seattle (74-71), then Pierzynski's clutch seventh-inning at-bat against reliever Mark Lowe stands as the top candidate. The frame began with the South Siders trailing by one and featured back-to-back singles from Chris Getz and Alexei Ramirez against reliever Shawn Kelley (4-3). But they stayed at first and second when Scott Podsednik failed to bunt them over and eventually struck out swinging.
Lowe entered the game and induced Gordon Beckham's ground ball to third baseman Adrian Beltre, moving the runners to second and third and setting the two-out stage for Pierzynski. The at-bat consisted of 10 pitches, with six foul balls, before Pierzynski served a single in front of left fielder Bill Hall to put the White Sox ahead.
"That was the game right there," said Guillen of Pierzynski's clutch at-bat. "A.J. battled back against, to me, one of the best relievers in the game, at least every time we face him. This guy gives us a lot of tough times."
"Again, it's a 3-2 ballgame," Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. "The three runs in the seventh hurt us."
Paul Konerko followed with a double to right-center, scoring Pierzynski. But it was the catcher's shot to left that gave control to the White Sox.
"No, it was just a battle," said Pierzynski, whose three hits raised his average to .315. "That guy throws hard, 97, 98 [mph] with movement. He threw me a couple of sliders and I fouled them off. I was trying to battle and get a good pitch and put it in play.
"Luckily for us, it came down in left field for two runs. I just battled both sides [of the plate], and fortunately I won it this time."
Pierzynski's single also made a winner of Freddy Garcia (2-2), who produced his fifth straight quality start. Garcia yielded three runs on seven hits over six innings, including a home run from Ken Griffey Jr., in improving to 3-3 lifetime against his old team.
Seattle actually tried to answer with a rally of its own in the bottom of the seventh, started by Jack Wilson's infield single and helped by Ichiro's catchable blooper that fell in between left fielder Carlos Quentin and Ramirez for a hit. But with runners on second and third and one out, Octavio Dotel got No. 3 hitter Jose Lopez to pop out to first baseman Mark Kotsay, who doubled home the White Sox first two runs in the fourth off of Ian Snell, and Matt Thornton struck out Griffey on three fastballs.
Closer Bobby Jenks earned his 29th save, striking out Lopez on a 3-2 pitch as the tying run, following Ichiro's two-out infield single and a walk issued to Franklin Gutierrez. Griffey, as the potential game-winning run, was left on deck.
"We won the game today, but we did a lot of bad things," Guillen said. "We left two guys on third base with less than two outs. We drop a fly ball with Ichiro to make it tougher. But like I said a few weeks ago, it's not about how we win or lose, as long as we win."
To tighten Detroit's collar a bit more, the White Sox would like to win the next two at Safeco and return home as a team sitting over .500. But they don't want to stop at simply the Seattle sweep.
Asked after Tuesday's win for a victory total that might give the White Sox this long-shot division crown with 17 games to play, Pierzynski went all in with his answer.
"Seventeen. That's it," Pierzynski said. "We have to try to win every game and see what happens. We came off a tough series in Anaheim. We played well enough to win a couple of those games and we didn't get it done. We have to find a way to claw and win."
"How many are we back? 5 1/2?" said Garcia, before pausing to agree with his batterymate. "We have to win every game."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.