09/06/10 5:59 PM ET
A.J. caps never-say-die win for White Sox
Pierzynski drives in decisive run in 10th as streak hits seven
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
It's a good thing the South Siders refuse to lose. With Minnesota's home victory over the Royals by this same final, the Twins (81-57) have a 6-1 record in their past seven contests and maintain a 3 1/2-game lead in the American League Central.
Gaining ground on the Twins becomes nearly impossible to do when they don't stumble. But the good news for the White Sox (77-60), who moved a season-high 17 games over .500, is how they are staying close to the top with a three-game home series coming up in one week against Minnesota.
"We're just finding ways to win games," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games before delivering the game-winning single in the 10th. "Everyone's sticking with their plan."
"This is the last three weeks of the season, and we have to give it all we can right now," said White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel of his team's great run.
Monday marked a personal milestone for Vizquel, as he played in game No. 2,832 to become the all-time Major League leader in games played for individuals born outside the United States. Vizquel snapped a tie with Rafael Palmeiro.
By Vizquel's own admission, that milestone doesn't mean quite as much in the moment as another White Sox win.
That victory went to rookie phenom Chris Sale, picking up the first of what figures to be many victories in his career. The left-hander faced eight batters and retired them all, including three strikeouts, while earning praise from the Tigers (68-70).
"He's very impressive," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland of Sale. "He threw more breaking balls today, it looked like. Cranked it up to 97. Before he was throwing it all real hard, but it looked like he backed off a little bit [today]. His fastball was not quite as hard until he needed it."
"I'm just trying to do my best every time I get in the game and help the team win," Sale said.
For one brief but erroneous moment, Brandon Inge looked as if he had put the Tigers in front in the eighth inning off of Sale. He lofted a long fly ball down the left-field line, which clearly drifted foul, but still was called a home run by third-base umpire Tony Randazzo.
Immediate White Sox protests brought an official review, and the call was overturned. Inge struck out looking to end the inning and the game stayed tied until the 10th.
Manny Ramirez opened the extra frame with a single to left off Detroit closer Jose Valverde (2-4) and moved to second on Ryan Raburn's fielding error. Pinch-runner Alejandro De Aza scored the game-winner on Pierzynski's opposite-field shot to left following Alex Rios' single to center.
Pierzynski's clutch connection and Ramirez's third single of the game and seventh since joining the White Sox both came with two strikes.
"Like I said, no one is panicking," Pierzynski said. "We're not giving away our at-bats. We're not swinging at bad pitches. We're just going in there saying, 'Hey, I'm going to fight and see what happens.'"
A two-out rally in the eighth brought the White Sox even with Detroit and prevented starter Max Scherzer from getting the victory. Andruw Jones singled with one out, knocking Scherzer from the game, and after left-handed reliever Phil Coke retired Pierzynski on a long fly ball to right, the managerial wheels began to turn.
Brent Lillibridge pinch-ran for Jones. Alexei Ramirez pinch-hit for Mark Kotsay, and Ryan Perry replaced Coke. Lillibridge swiped second, and Ramirez's single on a 3-2 pitch scored Lillibridge.
Scherzer yielded four runs on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked two. White Sox starter Edwin Jackson had an almost duplicate pitching line, only he walked just one among his 110 pitches, despite not having his best stuff.
"One of those days where you just go out and tell yourself you are going to have to battle, and just keep the game close and give our team a chance to win," Jackson said. "It was one of those games you don't have your best stuff, but you don't want to show it. You have to go out and still have the same mind frame as if you did have good stuff."
As for overall frame of mind, the White Sox might be a little frustrated with their longest road streak since they won seven in a row last year only netting them one game in the standings. If so, they aren't showing that frustration.
Instead, as Pierzynski said, they find ways to win. Early or late, with the long ball or a series of singles. The streaking continues, and the White Sox know it might have to last throughout the season's final month.
"Definitely, it's easy to get discouraged when the team is winning a lot and you feel like you're playing well and not moving, but we are hanging in there," said White Sox captain Paul Konerko, who sat out Monday with back stiffness. "It's why it's so tough. That's why when it's [game No. 162], when you do win the division, the three times I have, it's such a great feeling because you feel like it's the hardest thing to do.
"At some point, hopefully we make a move [up the standings]. But I think it's bringing the best out in both teams. Like I said two, three, six months ago, it will probably come down to the last week, the last weekend. That's what we hope. Where we're at right now, that's what we hope because we're 3 1/2 back."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.