Although many of the players like to beat the traffic and get out of the ballpark quickly on fireworks night at U.S. Cellular, Friday's speedy affair was courtesy of starting pitchers Joe Saunders and Gavin Floyd. The duo came within two outs in the ninth inning of throwing a pair of complete games, with Francisco Rodriguez finishing up the victory for his Major League-leading 20th save.
Rodriguez didn't escape without a few theatrics, after Orlando Cabrera (2-for-3) singled to open the ninth off of Saunders (8-1) and A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to put an end to the southpaw's evening. The Angels closer promptly walked Quentin on four pitches after replacing Saunders and then gave up Dye's run-scoring single to left, putting runners on first and third.
Just when it looked as if the White Sox (26-21) would force extra innings or even extend their longest winning streak since 2006, Jim Thome struck out swinging for the second out. Pinch-runner DeWayne Wise swiped second base, putting the tying run in scoring position, but Joe Crede struck out swinging to close out the victory for the Angels (29-21).
"The way we've played lately, I thought we had a chance to do it," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of the ninth-inning rally. "With one out, we had Thome and Crede at the plate. Those guys have been clutch hitters all their careers, and I thought we had a good feeling. On the other hand, we were facing the guy that's leading the league in saves. He did his job."
"He threw me a fastball first pitch and then threw me a couple of sliders inside -- and give him credit," added Thome of his at-bat against Rodriguez. "He made some good pitches, but we battled and it didn't work out. Saunders pitched a nice game himself. You have to credit him."
Floyd (4-3) recorded his second career complete game, but the first one on May 11, 2006, for Philadelphia was shortened by rain. On Friday, he pitched brilliantly for all but one inning -- make that, he pitched brilliantly for all but six batters. The Angels managed to push across three runs in the fifth.
Torii Hunter launched a one-out home run to break a scoreless tie, and walks to Mike Napoli and Sean Rodriguez, sandwiched around Rob Quinlan's single, loaded the bases with two outs. Floyd proceeded to hit Maicer Izturis with a fastball to force in the second run and then hit Gary Matthews Jr. with a curveball to put his team in a three-run hole.
"It's unexplainable," said Floyd of the consecutive hit batsmen, adding how he didn't think either Los Angeles hitter did much to get out of the way. "I was trying too hard to make a pitch. I just got a little ahead of myself. I just started wanting to throw the ball instead of letting things happen."
"Gavin Floyd in the fifth just lost control a little bit, but he bounced back and threw well," Guillen added. "He threw another good game for us and we reacted a little late."
Saunders walked Cabrera and yielded Pierzynski's bunt single to open the first, but emerged unscathed from the jam. He gave up two baserunners over the next seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.31. Floyd's ERA dipped to 2.93 in nine starts, striking out three, walking four and allowing three hits.
This particular effort from Floyd fed into a great run of success from the rotation over the last nine games, during which the White Sox starting five has posted a 5-1 record with a 1.86 ERA. Saunders was just a little bit better in Friday's series opener, dropping the White Sox lead in the American League Central to 2 1/2 games over Minnesota.
An eight-game run for the White Sox started last Wednesday in Anaheim and ended nine days later, two time zones away at home.
"When you get on a role like that, it's so much fun in the clubhouse, just fun to show up every day," said Anderson, who finished 0-for-3 against Saunders. "I don't think anybody is bummed out about tonight. We'll come right back tomorrow and start another streak."
Guillen's lineup changes nine games ago, moving Pierzynski to second and Quentin to third in the order, helped facilitate this eight-game run. If Guillen learned anything from Friday's loss, it's that his team listens to him a little too closely.
"It's funny, I was having a meeting with the guys before the game started about Major League Baseball wanting to get the games quick, but I didn't think they were gonna take it so serious," said Guillen with a laugh. "I said after the game, 'I was just kidding, boys.' They really took that seriously."