Confidence remains even if lead doesn't

Lead trimmed by loss to Tribe

CHICAGO -- If there was ever a time for the White Sox to show a few signs of panic or even a good old-fashioned case of flop sweat, then the postgame following Cleveland's 7-5 victory before an electric crowd at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday would have been a truly legitimate opportunity.

The Indians (88-62) had just rallied from a one-run deficit in the eighth inning, fighting for their 14th win in 15 games, and trimmed the White Sox lead in the American League Central to a mere 2 1/2 games. This advantage stood at 15 following the South Siders' victory in Baltimore on Aug. 1.

Monday's win by the Yankees, courtesy of Bubba Crosby's walk-off home run against the Orioles, heaped even more trouble on the White Sox collective shoulders. Their lead simply to clinch a playoff spot was trimmed to four games over the Bronx Bombers.

Yes, it truly could have been a difficult night for Ozzie Guillen and his charges. But there was Guillen, sitting behind the microphone preaching anything but fear in regard to his team's seemingly fading postseason chances.

Chicago's players took a cue from their manager and echoed his sentiments.

"It was just two teams who played well," said designated hitter Carl Everett, who gave the White Sox a brief lead with his 23rd home run in the seventh. "I always say that as long as there's no GB [games back] behind your name, you are still on top. There's no sense of holding your head down."

"If you get nervous, you lose the lead you have," added Guillen, whose team has a 3-8 record over its last 11 games and has lost five straight at home. "I liked the way they played and battled today. If we keep battling and playing like that, we will be OK."

With two outs in the eighth inning, it looked as if the White Sox (90-59) had pretty much battled their way back for comeback victory No. 35 and improved to 11-3 against the Indians this season in the process. The White Sox actually trailed Cleveland and starter Kevin Millwood by a 4-0 margin entering the fifth, with the Indians touching Freddy Garcia for two home runs and four earned runs over 6 1/3 innings.

But Casey Blake's two-base error in right field on Aaron Rowand's line drive to right seemed to give fifth-inning life to the White Sox and the raucous crowd of 35,748. Joe Crede and Tadahito Iguchi singled home runs, and Paul Konerko's two-run double knotted the game at 4.

Everett's first home run since Sept. 2, and his first extra-base hit since Sept. 7, left a one-run lead to a steady White Sox bullpen, an advantage that certainly would have held up when these two teams faced off earlier this season. Unfortunately for the White Sox, times have changed.

Travis Hafner walked and Victor Martinez doubled with one out in the eighth against Damaso Marte, before Marte struck out Ben Broussard and gave way to new closer Bobby Jenks. The hard-throwing right-hander worked the count to 2-2 against Aaron Boone, but Boone ripped a single past shortstop Juan Uribe for the game-winning shot.

Jenks felt the pitch was in a fairly good location. It was simply the case of a good fastball hitter beating a pitcher with a great fastball.

"The pitch was down and on the outer third, but I guess it wasn't off the plate enough," said Jenks, who blew his first save in four chances. "In a situation like that, with two guys on, you have to go right after them with your best pitch. It just happened to work out for him tonight."

Carrying a two-run lead into the ninth inning, Bob Wickman was summoned with his 44th save in mind. Of course, the White Sox had to flash back to the second game of the season, when Wickman entered the ninth with a 3-0 lead and gave up four runs in a game that set the tone for this incredible season, according to some White Sox players.

Konerko was even at the plate, with two on and two outs Monday, and it was his home run on April 6 that got the rally rolling. On this occasion, Konerko popped out to second baseman Ramon Vazquez for the final out. It was a pitch Konerko felt as if he just missed turning around for victory.

"He didn't hang a slider. It was away," Konerko said. "But for a guy as good as him, that's about as good of a pitch as you can get. He doesn't leave many balls in the middle of the plate and that's why he's so good. I just ... I want it back, put it that way."

There was nobody making excuses after the series-opening setback. There was no talk of magic numbers holding at 11 to win the division and 10 to clinch a playoff spot.

The White Sox immediately switched focus to Tuesday, with Mark Buehrle facing off against Jake Westbrook. But even a second straight defeat won't send this team into a scared frenzy. The confidence remains, even if the division lead doesn't.

"You can't say tomorrow is it," Buehrle said. "If we lose [Tuesday], it ain't the end of the season. If we play like we did today, things will turn out good for us."

"Just because we lost all that ground it doesn't mean that two weeks from now we have to be on the losing end," Konerko added. "I believe we are going to do it, and if we do, I believe we will be dangerous after that's done."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.