06/30/08 12:48 AM ET
Buehrle, bats leads Sox to sweep
Backed by long balls, starter goes seven solid innings
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Based on the regular season Interleague results from these past two weekends, the All-Star Game in New York could decide the Chicago that ultimately emerges with a championship.
Rarely have two series outcomes been so influenced by the venue in which the three games were played. The Cubs won a hard-fought opener on Aramis Ramirez's walk-off shot two Fridays ago, and then walked all over the visitors in the next two games at Wrigley Field.
As for this past weekend, the White Sox captured a one-run victory on Saturday, but basically annihilated the Cubs during the other two matchups. They completed their own three-game sweep with a 5-1 victory before an ESPN national television audience on Sunday night and 39,573 at U.S. Cellular Field, a partisan-White Sox crowd, who began the requisite "sweep" chant with the waving of the brooms shortly after Jim Thome's mammoth blast to right-center with two outs in the eighth.
The White Sox (46-35) out-pitched their counterparts, especially out of the bullpen, out-slugged them, and basically outplayed them from Jose Contreras' first pitch on Friday to Bobby Jenks' last pitch to pinch-hitter Daryle Ward on Sunday. Even Ramirez, a noted White Sox nemesis who hit four home runs and drove in eight runs at Wrigley, was completely shut down in 13 at-bats on the South Side.
Both teams exit U.S. Cellular with a first-place hold on their respective divisions. The White Sox, though, feature more of that championship glow after taking care of their home part of the competition.
"It will be a different Monday in Chicago," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen with a smile during his postgame press conference. "I bet you White Sox fans can't wait to get up for work tomorrow, because I know it was tough for them last weekend. It's nice to see the fans have a smile on their face."
"We didn't play very well last weekend and wanted to come out and redeem ourselves this weekend," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski added. "We did that. It's good to win at home. The Cubs are a good team, and to beat them three in a row is tough to do."
A combination of the long ball and another great start from Mark Buehrle (6-6) was enough to complete this sweep of the Cubs. Buehrle improved to 4-0 with a miniscule 1.15 ERA in his last five starts, giving up one unearned run over seven innings, striking out five and walking two.
Buehrle, who usually works in the 82-85 mph range and relies on pitch location to induce ground balls and get out of trouble, was able to celebrate hitting 90 mph on the radar gun against the Cubs.
"My velocity was up there, and that makes all my other pitches good," said Buehrle, whose ERA has dropped from 5.27 on May 27 to 3.79. "I was joking around yesterday when [Matt] Thornton was throwing on FOX, he hit 96 and above, and they put flames on there. I was going to try to get these guys to put icicles or something for throwing 83 or 84.
"At 90, it should have been double flames for me," added Buehrle with a laugh.
Carlos Quentin put the White Sox on the board with a solo home run against Sean Marshall (0-2) in the fourth, his 19th of the year and second in this series. Brian Anderson followed with a two-run blast in the fifth, with all four of his long balls coming off of southpaws this season.
Thome literally raised the plethora of brooms in the crowd with a 421-foot clout on a 2-2 pitch from reliever Jose Ascanio. Thome's 15th home run this season gave him sole possession of 16th place on the career list at 522, surpassing Willie McCovey and Ted Williams, and moved Thome to the top of the all-time Interleague long-ball list with 55.
"You're talking two names that are probably the greats in the game, so it's kind of surreal and humbling, to be honest with you," said Thome of moving past McCovey and Williams. "To do that, you have to have good teammates around you."
"I can't fathom that," added Anderson of Thome's long-ball total. "I'm glad to be on 14, or whatever I'm at."
Anderson's team finds itself with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Twins in the American League Central, and holding on to a five-game advantage over the Tigers at the season's halfway mark. The Cubs, meanwhile, lost two games on their National League Central lead over the Cardinals, currently standing 2 1/2 games in front of the Cardinals and 4 1/2 ahead of the Brewers.
Just one week ago, it was the Cubs who looked to be on the fast track to the World Series. On Sunday, they had two runners easily doubled off second on routine line drives, and manager Lou Piniella didn't even stay around for most of the contest after being ejected in the second.
So, the White Sox are the team de jour in Chicago, but just maybe these pair of sweeps aren't the last time they will meet. If there is a World Series in their collective future, home-field advantage is where the championship might be decided.
"These guys are a fine club," said Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell, who spoke for Piniella after the loss. "I would think they feel pretty good about their chances, as we do."
"It's too far off to worry about," Pierzynski added. "It seems like we've played one million games already and we have 81 games to go. It's a crazy season."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.