Ballplayers who tell you they don't watch scoreboards are lying. Because the Chicago White Sox were one kind of a team before the Cleveland Indians' 5-4 loss at Kansas City was posted on the big board out beyond the wall in right-center, and they...
Ballplayers who tell you they don't watch scoreboards are lying. Because the Chicago White Sox were one kind of a team before the Cleveland Indians' 5-4 loss at Kansas City was posted on the big board out beyond the wall in right-center, and they were a different kind of team after it.
Just like that, Paul Konerko found his stroke and hit his first home run in more than two weeks. Mark Buehrle posted his first complete game in more than three months. And the White Sox went on to win without breaking into a cold sweat for the first time in more than -- well, that depends on whom you ask.
Ballplayers never like to talk about pressure. The party line is that it barely exists. But you could see it lift off the shoulders of the White Sox and dissipate in the dense gray sky just like the rain showers that moved in, over and away from U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday, delaying the start of Chicago's game against the Minnesota Twins by an hour.
That delay, coupled with the Sox's staggered afternoon starting time, meant that Kansas City's win over the Indians popped up on the scoreboard around 4 p.m., just after Buehrle got the first out in the top of the third inning. The news cranked up the volume in the stands so suddenly that Buehrle looked back over his shoulder, stepped off the mound and briefly considered a comic tip of his hat.
But at least the left-hander knew the ovation wasn't for him, or because he'd just enticed Chris Heintz into grounding out meekly to shortstop. Konerko, on the other hand, had no idea what all the shouting was about. At least not right away.
"I thought somebody jumped on the field," he recalled, "because it was loud."
Manager Ozzie Guillen, likewise, was slow on the uptake.
"I got my three kids next to me, driving me crazy," Guillen said, "and all of a sudden Ozzie Jr., when they (the Royals) scored the run, Ozzie is screaming next to me so much ... I told him, 'Make sure you stay away from me. At least for nine innings."'
The White Sox finished off the Twins 4-1, pushing their lead over Cleveland in the American League Central back to 2½ games.
"It's a miracle we actually gained a game on them," Aaron Rowand said.
Chicago had a 15-game lead over the Indians on Aug. 1, making it look like the Yankees and Red Sox would again battle it out in the East, with the loser taking home a wild-card spot as consolation. But in the seven weeks since, the Sox turned lukewarm, struggling to play .500 ball, and the Indians went on a tear. Heading into Sunday, they'd won 17 of their last 19.
That left two ways to look at how the Indians had closed such a large gap so quickly. Guess which view Guillen has been pushing.
"The way Cleveland is playing right now," he said, "I never thought they would lose another game."
But the moment after the Indians did, the White Sox began playing again like the team that dominated the first half. Leadoff man Scott Podsednik, still slowed by a hamstring injury, looked like a table-setter again. He began the bottom of the third with a single, and after Tadahito Iguchi forced him at second on a fielder's choice, Iguchi scored on Rowand's triple.
Then Konerko homered to left on the first pitch from Francisco Liriano. And Buehrle, who was 10-3 before the All-Star break, but only 5-5 since, did the rest.
"There's no question there's disappointment that it's gotten to the point it's got to," Konerko said. "But I think we've done a pretty good job in the last few days of realizing, 'OK you know, it is a race. Let's not try and be in denial about it.'
"This is a race, it's tightened up," he added, "so now let's play ball."
If admitting a problem is the first step toward recovery, the White Sox might look back at Sunday as the day they remembered to start breathing normally again. The win, in their last home game of the season, was their third in a row. It's a modest turnaround after dropping 10 of the previous 14. But Chicago has the best road team in the league, and with four games in Detroit followed by a likely three-game, winner-take-all finish in Cleveland, they'll get one final chance to prove it.
"We're the team with the lead. We're not trying to catch anyone. We're ahead," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski reminded everyone, teammates included, "and all we've got to do is stay ahead."