07/05/10 12:10 AM ET
Alexei lights fireworks in White Sox win
Sixth-inning homer pulls Chicago within game in AL Central
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Instead of giving in when they were nine games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central -- as recently as June 8 -- the White Sox did something to correct their vast problems.
An 18-5 correction over the past 23 games, to be exact, following Chicago's 5-3 victory over Texas (48-33) before 45,020 Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The win gave the White Sox (42-38) a 3-3 record on the road trip that started in Kansas City and produced their first positive series decision in Arlington since June 12-15, 2006.
Those numbers stand as virtually meaningless compared to the most important piece of information. The two-run victory, coupled with Minnesota's loss to Tampa Bay and Detroit's loss to Cliff Lee and Seattle, leaves the White Sox just one game behind the Twins (44-38) and Tigers (43-37) at the top of the division, the closest Ozzie Guillen's crew has been to first place since sitting a half-game out on April 7.
"It's big," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who improved to 4-1 in his past five starts thanks to Sunday's effort. "Obviously, we've been battling. Minnesota has not been playing good. Detroit is back and forth. To get that close from where we were at three weeks ago, it's a huge step for us."
"We are very excited just being one game out," said White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. "We are very excited to be where we are."
Ramirez gave Buehrle (7-7) the biggest piece of support via his two-run blast, culminating a three-run rally off of Texas starter Scott Feldman (5-8) in the sixth inning. The Rangers had grabbed a 3-2 lead entering the frame behind home runs from Josh Hamilton and Julio Borbon, but Paul Konerko began the comeback with a double to left and scored when Carlos Quentin doubled to right on the next pitch.
Mark Kotsay's grounder moved Quentin to third, where he stayed when Michael Young robbed A.J. Pierzynski of extra bases on a grounder down the line. But Ramirez came through on a 1-0 offering with home run No. 7 -- his first in 21 games.
"That home run he hit, I was trying to go sinker down and away and it just kind of came back over the plate," Feldman said. "It sort of just went right into his swing and he was able to hit it out.
"Our guys gave me the lead two different times, and I let them right back in the game both times. With Buehrle throwing the way he was throwing over there, you can't do that. It pretty much sums it up."
Dayan Viciedo erased a 2-1 deficit in the fifth with a run-scoring grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus. Viciedo was in the game because starting third baseman Omar Vizquel exited in the third after being hit on the inside of his left knee by a Feldman pitch.
Vizquel was helped off the field by Ozzie Guillen and White Sox head athletic trainer Herm Schneider. Guillen figures Vizquel will miss a couple of games, although X-rays were negative.
Buehrle gave up just the three runs over seven innings without walking or striking out a Rangers hitter, posting the first start of seven innings or more with no walks or strikeouts in the Majors this season. He probably lasted an extra inning by cruising through Ian Kinsler, Vladimir Guerrero and Hamilton on six pitches in the sixth inning after the White Sox claimed their two-run advantage.
"Any time you score, your main goal is to go out and hold them and get the offense back in there," said Buehrle, who yielded five hits over 93 pitches. "There's not an easy out in this lineup. The bottom three guys are probably their worst three hitters, and they are all hitting pretty good."
"Our starting pitching was very good, and I was pretty impressed," Guillen said. "To come down here and pitch and have the games like we did the last three games, it was outstanding pitching. This ballclub, you can't relax or pick anyone to pitch, because everyone out there swings the bats very, very good."
J.J. Putz worked a perfect eighth for his 19th consecutive scoreless appearance, and first-time All-Star Matt Thornton pitched around a leadoff walk to Kinsler for his fifth save. Guillen went to Thornton once again because he wanted to stay away from closer Bobby Jenks in this series. Jenks has not thrown since June 24, as he was attending to a family illness.
Thornton fanned Nelson Cruz looking for the final out, sending the White Sox back to Chicago with a positive feeling after handling a team tied with Boston for the AL's highest home win total. Looking at the White Sox at the start of June, it would have been hard to imagine this group anywhere close to first place.
More work needs to be done before the All-Star break, with four games against the Angels and three against the Royals. But it's a much better outlook to go to work with a one-game deficit, especially as opposed to close to double digits.
"A couple of months ago, a couple of weeks ago, it was like we don't know what to do with this ballclub," Guillen said. "A lot of people lost faith, and this ballclub proved a lot of people wrong."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.