07/20/07 1:56 AM ET
Vazquez bends, but doesn't break
Pierzynski drives in three runs, Konerko notches 21st homer
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
For example, in the first three innings of the White Sox 4-2 victory over the Red Sox before 36,913 Thursday night, it sounded as if Boston hitters were ripping offerings from Chicago starter Javier Vazquez around Fenway Park.
By the time Vazquez had completed those three stanzas of work, the right-hander already had allowed seven hits. But the key to this winning decision, evening the White Sox record at 4-4 on this 11-game road trip to start the second half, was Vazquez (7-5) taking a page out of Mark Buehrle's pitching book from Wednesday.
Vazquez didn't have his best stuff. Yet, he bent but never broke against Boston's high-powered offense.
"Most of the hits were early in the game," said Vazquez, who gave up just two runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings, fanning five and walking two as he picked up his fourth straight winning decision. "Later on in the game, probably after the third or fourth inning, I got into more of a rhythm."
"During his last two outings, he's been doing the same stuff but he stays in the game and keeps us close," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added of Vazquez. "That's all you can ask when you are the starter. He battled against a pretty good hitting ballclub. He gives us a chance to do what we did."
After a one-hour, 56-minute rain delay, the White Sox offense basically delivered the sounds of silence in their first matchup with Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (11-7). A.J. Pierzynski's run-scoring single in the first, one of his three hits on the night, stood as the White Sox only safety off Matsuzaka through five innings.
But the White Sox (43-51) had a plan to be patient with Matsuzaka, and that plan paid dividends in the sixth. Matsuzaka issued consecutive walks to Tadahito Iguchi, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko to open the frame, setting up Pierzynski's bases-loaded single past first baseman Kevin Youkilis to bring home the go-ahead runs and eventual game-winner.
Matsuzaka exited after walking six and fanning six, but getting touched up only by Pierzynski.
"My stuff was OK today," said Matsuzaka through a translator. "I just wasn't able to control it very well. I wasn't able to throw any strikes."
"We [did] a good job of making sure he threw the ball over the plate," added Guillen of Matsuzaka. "He has real good stuff, but the key for him is to throw strikes -- and he couldn't do it today."
Holding a one-run advantage in the seventh inning, the key for the White Sox was to receive significant bullpen help in a precarious situation. Dustin Pedroia lined a single to right off of Vazquez and David Ortiz followed with a single to center off left-handed reliever Matt Thornton, putting runners on first and second with one out.
Right-hander Ryan Bukvich replaced Thornton, and he was greeted by Manny Ramirez's 400-foot drive to right-center, which had the markings of Ramirez's 15th home run or at least a go-ahead extra-base hit.
Those sounds of exuberance from the sold out crowd at Fenway turned to groans of disappointment when center fielder Jerry Owens hauled in the drive some 400 feet away in right-center. After dusting Youkilis on the first pitch with two outs, Bukvich fired two fastballs past the Red Sox first baseman, who went down swinging to end the threat and strand the tying run at third and go-ahead run at first.
It was an important outing for Bukvich, who had only one thought when Ramirez connected.
"Stay to center," said Bukvich, who threw 1 2/3 hitless innings. "Quit slicing because it left on the right side of me and I looked over and [Owens] was running and I was like, 'Stay straight, stay straight.'"
Konerko added his 21st home run and 13th long ball over his last 35 games leading off the eighth against Hideki Okajima, breaking a string of 17 scoreless innings hurled by the All-Star rookie. Okajima gave up his first home run since Kansas City's John Buck launched the southpaw's first big-league pitch on Opening Day.
Even with three wins in their last four games against the Indians and Red Sox, the White Sox have been unable to gain significant ground with the American League Central. With Cleveland and Detroit winning Thursday, the White Sox still have deficits of 12 1/2 and 14 1/2 games, respectively, although they now sit just 5 1/2 games behind third-place Minnesota.
Still, the sounds in the White Sox clubhouse were of excitement in regard to this hard-fought victory. It was juxtaposed against the sound of frustration coming from Pedroia, when he popped up a 3-1 pitch from closer Bobby Jenks (26th save) to finish off Thursday's opener of a four-game set.
"Our guys scored enough runs, and it ended up being a good win," Vazquez said.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.