White Sox answer Twins challenge

White Sox answer challenge

CHICAGO -- Behind three home runs and Mark Buehrle's most productive mound effort since June 27, the White Sox answered a weekend challenge posed by the Twins with a convincing 6-1 victory Sunday afternoon before 35,193 at U.S. Cellular Field.

And with one swing of the bat in the fifth inning, A.J. Pierzynski provided a more perfect response to being hit by a Carlos Silva pitch two innings earlier then any retaliatory effort could have conveyed.

Pierzynski admitted after his team avoided its sixth straight home loss to Minnesota (76-53) since the All-Star break that Minnesota players basically told him in casual conversation before Saturday's game he would be hit at some point during the remaining two games.

The Twins were upset with Pierzynski's pronounced bat flip after hitting a game-tying home run off reliever Pat Neshek to lead off the bottom of the sixth on Friday. So, with runners on second and third and one out in the third Sunday, and with the right-handed hitting Joe Crede on deck, Pierzynski figured he would be walked or hit.

Silva (8-12) drilled Pierzynski in the back side with the first pitch, but the Minnesota right-hander then pitched out of the jam by inducing a double-play grounder from Crede.

Silva was not quite as fortunate in the fifth. With the White Sox (76-54) holding a 3-1 lead and Paul Konerko on first base with two outs, Pierzynski blasted a 1-1 pitch to right field for his 12th home run.

Pierzynski watched the 385-foot drive for a split-second before running toward first. As he moved down the first-base line, Pierzynski sort of used a half flip to get rid of his bat. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had no problem with Silva's apparent purpose pitch in the third, although Silva claimed he was just trying to pitch inside.

Guillen also had no problem with Pierzynski's reaction after Sunday's home run, adding with a smile that he might have carried the bat all the way around the bases if he was the hitter.

"I love it," Guillen said. "[Twins pitching coach Rick] Anderson and [manager Ron Gardenhire] are the only guys I have a great relationship with of any ballclub in baseball. You get hit and you know you get hit on purpose, and all of a sudden you hit a home run, you should [enjoy] it. That's part of the game."

"That was more I was [upset] because I got hit the at-bat before," added Pierzynski of his post-homer reaction. "I didn't think I flipped it today. Of course, it's me, so they are going to say I flipped my bat."

Crede followed with his 28th home run, marking the eighth time this season the White Sox have gone back-to-back. This particular drive leaves Crede and Konerko (29 home runs) three long balls short of giving the South Siders four players with 30 home runs in the same season for the first time in franchise history.

With the White Sox sitting just three dingers short of their seventh straight 200-homer season, these prodigious clouts are an expected part of the team's offense. Sunday's more encouraging moments, though, came from the small-ball portion of the game -- mainly Scott Podsednik and Buehrle.

Podsednik finished with three of the club's 13 hits, including his second straight game with a bunt hit, and two stolen bases. Podsednik, who has 35 stolen bases, had one stolen base in his previous 18 games before Sunday.

"That was probably louder than it was during the World Series. It was a pretty good ovation."
-- Mark Buehrle, on
the reaction as he left the game

It was Buehrle (11-11), though, who provided the stellar starting pitching Guillen and the White Sox fan base craved. The left-hander became just the second member of the rotation to pitch into the seventh inning over the past seven games, as Buehrle allowed one run on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings while striking out six.

When Guillen removed Buehrle with two runners on in the eighth inning, he left to one of the more thunderous standing ovations of the 2006 season.

"That was probably louder than it was during the World Series," said Buehrle, who improved to 18-10 lifetime against the Twins. "It was a pretty good ovation. I don't know if they were saying it was about time I had a good game or it was about time one of our starting pitchers had a good game, but it was nice to see."

"He was great, and it really was typical Buehrle," Pierzynski added. "Throw the ball over the plate and use all of his pitches. We needed a performance like that from him."

Juan Uribe added his 16th home run leading off the sixth, as the White Sox moved back within one-half game of the Twins in the chase for the American League Wild Card and stayed 5 1/2 behind the Tigers (82-49) in the AL Central. These two teams close out the season with three games at the Metrodome, and there's a strong likelihood a playoff spot will be on the line.

There's no chance the White Sox will be saving up any payback for Silva's actions. Pierzynski quickly and eloquently diffused any sort of controversy Sunday evening, pointing out that he expected to get hit, the job was done properly and he had nothing but respect for Gardenhire and the Twins.

The respect theme actually played out all weekend during a trio of games between two playoff-caliber teams, who ultimately might be fighting for one postseason slot.

"I applaud them for taking care of their business and doing what they had to do, in a way nobody could complain about and we could move on," said Pierzynski, who said his Friday bat flip wasn't intended to be as grandiose as it was. "[Silva] did it textbook. That's why I went to first and nothing happened.

"There are times when it's appropriate to hit people and there are times when it's not. There was no reason for us to hit anyone in that situation."

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