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Konerko's ninth slam powers White Sox

Konerko's ninth slam powers White Sox

CHICAGO -- There was no official announcement coming from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley labeling Thursday as Paul Konerko Day.

The White Sox designated hitter on this night simply took it upon himself to bestow such an honor.

After meeting with the media for 20 minutes before Chicago's series finale against Boston to discuss his impending free agency, marking the first time Konerko had addressed the topic during this Most Valuable Player Award-caliber season, the captain powered the White Sox to an 8-2 win at U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox (86-73) grabbed three of four from the Red Sox (87-72), giving them a 6-1 season-series edge, and they prevented Jon Lester (19-9) from picking up his 20th victory.

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Konerko's key at-bat came in the fourth with the game tied at 2, as the first baseman launched his ninth career grand slam, his first since July 7, 2009, against Cleveland. It was a classic battle for Konerko against one of the game's top left-handed starters, who yielded his first career grand slam.

"I threw a fastball up and he hit it out," said Lester. "He's obviously having a great year. Any time you throw a fastball up to those guys that can do what he can, it's not good. If I locate it, does he hit a ground ball? Maybe. Does he still hit it out? Maybe. I don't know. I threw it up in the zone and kind of provided a little bit of the power for him. He put a good swing on it. You've got to tip your hat."

"He's tough. He's got four pitches to use on both sides. Good fastball," Konerko said. "I just kept scrapping and just trying to drive it out. I wasn't thinking homer when you get down two strikes on a guy like that. It felt good and I had a good approach going tonight, and I didn't stray from it while I was up there."

Lester jumped ahead in the count at 1-2, before Konerko took a pair of pitches outside the zone to work it full. Konerko fouled off another one and then lofted the next offering into the left-center-field stands for his 39th home run, raising his RBI total to 111.

In this All-Star season during which even a glancing blow to the face on a Carl Pavano pitch couldn't slow down Konerko, his manager was not surprised to see this grand result.

"This player is unique -- very professional. [That was] just a big at-bat," Ozzie Guillen said. "All year, he was locked in and did not give up that many at-bats. [He tried] to make the best out of every at-bat. That's why he had the kind of season he had."

Here's how much power Konerko really possesses. In the sixth inning, going in search of his 40th home run, Konerko lofted a long drive to left-center that was caught about three feet from the wall. That blast seemed to shake the rafters, as two batters later, U.S. Cellular Field suffered an electrical outage, delaying the game for 21 minutes.

Dayan Viciedo also went deep for the White Sox, with his fourth home run barely clearing the fence in right, a shot which all but put an end to Lester's night. The Boston ace gave up eight runs on nine hits over four-plus innings, striking out five, walking five and throwing 99 pitches.

This contest could have been a 20-win coronation for Lester, with the Red Sox focused on helping their hurler reach that milestone. Konerko clearly had other ideas.

"That was perfect," said White Sox starting and winning pitcher John Danks of Konerko's grand slam. "I was a little worried I gave up the home run to put us down a run. Go down a run against Lester, he's a tough guy to score against."

Danks (15-11) increased his single-season career high for victories by striking out six in six innings, with Victor Martinez's two-run home run in the third the only runs he allowed. Danks finished with a 3.72 ERA and a team-high 162 strikeouts in a team-high 213 innings.

"We've been saying all along how we are trying to win every game from here on out, keep battling," Danks said. "We are all competitive and don't like to get beat, and tonight was another example."

Taking this series from Boston means Guillen needs just two victories this weekend to give him 600 for his career. Konerko needs one home run for his third season with at least 40 and needs three to set a career best at 42.

"Now, I'm rooting for 40," said Guillen of Konerko's home run total.

"I'll give it a run," Konerko said. "The numbers are nice. I've done it before. It's always nice to have a round number. But if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I would rather hit 25 or 30 on a team going to the playoffs than 40 on a team that's not."

Three games against Cleveland remain at home before the 2010 season wraps up. Konerko wasn't really in the plans to play much this weekend, although those plans might change with 40 homers in sight.

At the very least, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and Konerko figure to play on Sunday in what could be their last game wearing a White Sox uniform. Konerko received a curtain call after his grand slam on Thursday, and both players figure to get the same appreciative treatment from White Sox fans with their futures unknown.

"They've been great teammates for me," said Danks of Konerko and Pierzynski. "We want them back, but it's not our department."

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

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