Konerko takes his turn lighting fireworks
Guillen's handling of Danks, Jenks in final innings pays off
CHICAGO -- The White Sox 3-2 victory over Seattle on Sunday, completing a three-game sweep of the Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field, points up the kind of tight contest in which Ozzie Guillen truly earns his money.
Or as the White Sox manager readily admits, it's the sort of game in which the players make him look good. Nonetheless, Guillen had the guts to make two crucial, late-inning calls that ultimately led to victory.
In the top of the eighth inning, with the game tied at 2, Guillen slowly walked to the mound to talk to John Danks after softly hit singles from Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins put runners on first and third with two outs. Franklin Gutierrez stood as the next hitter, the same Gutierrez who took Danks deep with one out in the fourth.
As the fans anxiously awaited Guillen's decision on whether to leave the left-hander to finish the tremendous effort he had started, Guillen made a brief statement to Danks. It was his game to win or lose.
"If somebody deserved to win or lose that game, it was going to be John Danks," Guillen said.
"You definitely appreciate that," said Danks of Guillen's decision. "Fortunately, we were able to get out of that inning."
Gutierrez lofted a routine fly ball to center fielder Alex Rios, ending Danks' afternoon at 107 pitches. He gave up just two runs on seven hits, striking out five and not issuing a walk, in his second straight start of eight innings,
Over his last three starts, Danks has yielded just 11 hits and four runs in 23 innings, fanning 20 and walking five.
"This is only four starts in, but you know what, I feel good," said Danks of taking that next step up to elite hurler status with this first month's perfect showing. "I'm just being more aggressive than I was the last couple of years and so far so good."
"Impressive," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who opens the club's six-game road trip Tuesday in Texas. "He's out there attacking the strike zone and throwing all of his pitches for strikes, keeping guys off balance. It's the best I've seen his cutter in a while."
Danks wasn't able to raise his record to 3-0 until Bobby Jenks finished off his fourth save in the ninth. Jenks cruised through the first two hitters but gave up Casey Kotchman's double and walked Eric Byrnes.
With left-hander Matt Thornton warming up in the bullpen and left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter Ken Griffey Jr. coming to the plate, Guillen took that second seemingly long walk to the mound. Once again, he elected to stay with the pitcher in the game.
Jenks rewarded Guillen with a three-pitch strikeout of Griffey, blowing a 96-mph high fastball past a late swing for the third strike. Guillen said Jenks' right calf had some minor irritation, and he was just checking to make sure Jenks was OK.
"Bobby's my closer until we think he can't do it anymore," Guillen said. "I showed him my vote of confidence there. If I don't make those decisions, I lose confidence from my players.
"They won't think I'm going to believe in them. Danks was easy. I wanted him to lose this game, not anybody else. I want him to take care of his business and I think he grew up a little bit more."
There might have been no reason to call on Jenks if not for a third straight game-winning rally in the South Siders' last at-bat. Following closely in the footsteps of Andruw Jones on Friday and Alex Rios on Saturday, Paul Konerko launched his Major League-leading eighth home run, coming off Brandon League with one out in the eighth, giving the first baseman a home run in each game of the series.
Guillen was pleased with the victory, but he wasn't satisfied with continued missed opportunities. The White Sox had runners on second and third in the sixth with nobody out and scored just one run on Carlos Quentin's grounder, and in the seventh, Mark Teahen opened with a double but never moved past second base.
"That's a shame we had to wait for Konerko until we took the lead," Guillen said. "I know we're not perfect, but those little things, the way our offense is right now, we've got to do it. If we don't do that, we're not going to win.
"I say that right now. What is it, April 25? If we don't do that as a team, those little things, we're not going to win. We're going to be out of the pennant race quick.
"It's nice, a sweep is a sweep and I will take that thing every time, I don't care how," Guillen said. "But if we don't do those little things, it's going to be very, very, very tough for us to get where we want to get because our pitching staff can't be doing this all year long."
Whatever shortcomings existed on Sunday, it all worked out in the end for the White Sox (8-11). It was a great day for Danks, Jenks, Konerko and especially Guillen, with the White Sox even picking up a game in the American League Central on first-place Minnesota, which fell in Kansas City.
"They've got something rolling their way, that's for sure," said League of the White Sox. "Nothing to take away from them because they're great hitters, but when you see three home runs to win the game in three days ... ."
"Hopefully, a series like this will help jump-start us and get us on a roll," Danks said. "We are playing pretty good baseball right now. When everything starts clicking, I think we are going to be a tough team to beat."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.