Win the final two games against the American League Central leaders, and a slim chance still exists to climb back to the top of the division. But lose at home on either Wednesday or Thursday, and this amazing turnaround put forth by the White Sox (79-65) will be all but impossible to complete.
"I don't know if it's impossible, but it's going to be tough," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, after watching his team slip seven games behind the Twins. "There's still a lot of season to go, but in the meanwhile, we all know how important those next two games are."
"We are through the wall right now," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, when asked if his team's back was against the wall. "Before the series, you know it's tough and you have to probably sweep. But you just continue to play hard and who knows? We get the next two and keep battling until they say you can't battle anymore."
Plenty of battle was evident in the White Sox until the bottom of the eighth inning, after the Twins (86-58) scored five runs in the top half against relievers Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz and cruised to their ninth win in 10 games and 14th in their last 17. In fact, trailing by a 4-3 margin in the seventh, the White Sox had a chance to take control against the Twins bullpen.
Gordon Beckham and Juan Pierre opened with singles off Matt Guerrier, who was promptly replaced by Jesse Crain. Alexei Ramirez bunted the two runners over, and Crain then walked Alex Rios to load the bases after missing on a close 2-2 pitch. The .324-hitting Konerko, who had walked, tripled and singled in his previous three at-bats, was next to the plate, but Crain fanned him swinging for the second out.
"Sometimes you just get beat," said Konerko of the Crain strikeout. "I got beat on that last at-bat. I did everything I wanted. I'm swinging the bat great. I did everything I wanted to do and the guy beat me. I can live with that. I wish they were all like that. That's the way it is."
"He's hitting .320 with 36 home runs. He's a great hitter," said Crain of the AL Most Valuable Player candidate. "Luckily, I've been able to get the better end of him right now. Like I said, one swing of the bat can change that so I'm just going to try to focus on throwing good pitches whenever I face him."
And Crain wasn't done. In a battle with Manny Ramirez, the right-hander fanned the White Sox designated hitter to end the threat. Ramirez struck out against Francisco Liriano (14-7) to end the first with runners on first and second and struck out in the fourth with Konerko on third and one out, stranding six runners on the night.
Ramirez has yet to pick up an extra-base hit or an RBI in 40 plate appearances since joining the White Sox. Yet, he still feels comfortable hitting, and Ramirez's teammates certainly won't point any fingers at the newest addition.
"Like I said, I don't look for excuses," said Ramirez, who is hitting .270 overall with a .400 on-base percentage as part of the White Sox. "It's a long time I haven't played. I have to go out there and battle."
Five defensive gems behind starting pitcher John Danks (13-11) presented the White Sox a viable chance to simply stay within striking distance of the visitors. Pierre robbed Denard Span of extra bases with a diving catch on the first play of the game, and then Omar Vizquel made a leaping catch of Orlando Hudson's line drive on the next at-bat.
Beckham turned a slick double play on Span's grounder up the middle in the third, gloving the ball as he moved to the right and flipping with his glove to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who finished off the twin-killing. Pierre took extra bases away from Joe Mauer in the fourth, and Rios threw out Jim Thome at second in the fifth when he tried to stretch his single off the left-center-field wall into a double.
Danks gave up four runs on nine hits over seven innings, striking out three. Liriano allowed three runs on six hits over six, fanning seven, and improved to 3-0 against the White Sox this season.
"It wasn't enough," said Danks, who is 1-3 with a 5.58 ERA over his last four starts. "I felt I had enough stuff to give us a better result, but it's a pretty sick feeling right now.
"You've got to give them credit. They're playing well right now. But like I said, we had our chances. I had plenty of stuff to give us a better effort and I let us down."
Down 2-0 in the fifth, the White Sox rallied for a 3-2 lead in the sixth. They could have had more, starting that sixth with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Now, they must have two wins against the Twins to stay alive. At this point, with an elimination number of 12, a 5-11 record against the Twins and 18 games left, those two victories might not be enough.
"Not the next two," Ramirez said. "We have to win every game."
"To come in here and win this first game is huge," Crain said. "Mentally, it's got to hurt them a little bit. It's a huge win, probably one of the biggest of the season for sure."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less