CLEVELAND -- The White Sox had just five more baserunners than the idle Twins on Monday. Needless to say, it's all tied up in the American League Central. While idle Minnesota was resting before a three-game series in Toronto, Chicago was on the wrong side of history at Progressive Field. Indians starter Cliff Lee picked up his Major League-best 20th win of the season -- the first Tribe pitcher to do so since 1974 -- with one of his best outings of the season as he blanked the White Sox 5-0 before 23,317 fans.
With the loss, Chicago lost sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time since Aug. 23, sharing a 77-60 record with the Twins. With the Red Sox's victory against the Orioles, the White Sox sit three games out of the AL Wild Card. Though a couple White Sox had a few choice words for Lee after Chicago's fourth loss in its last five games, manager Ozzie Guillen had nothing but praise for the odds-on AL Cy Young Award winner. "I think that's the best I've seen him throw against us in a long time," Guillen said. "He's a 20-game winner for a reason." It didn't seem like he would be after his first eight pitches, as Orlando Cabrera and A.J. Pierzynski led off the game with back-to-back singles. But Lee settled in from there, striking out Carlos Quentin before inducing a lineout double play from Jermaine Dye to end Chicago's only real threat of the game. "After that," Guillen said, "it was history." Indeed it was, as Clayton Richard struggled to find the plate and gave the Indians plenty of unnecessary run support on a night where they needed just one. On paper, Richard's first inning was your standard 1-2-3 job, but Richard, and Guillen, both knew something wasn't right. "The first inning went 1-2-3 but it was a 1-2-3 where they put my mistakes into play," Richard said after his sixth career Major League start. "I don't think I hit one spot in the first inning. It continued from there and it was rough from the get-go." Richard didn't help himself in the second inning, when his errant toss to first on a Grady Sizemore grounder flew past Paul Konerko, allowing the Indians' leadoff man to reach second. Sizemore came around to score on Ben Francisco's RBI single to put the Sox behind, 1-0, caused largely by Richard's third error in just seven appearances. "Fielding is a big part of the game, and that's a big part as a pitcher to help himself," Guillen said. "That's the third or fourth time it's happened, and you got to get better than that." It didn't get much better for Richard after that, as he allowed another run in the third inning before Cleveland's 7-8-9 hitters put two on the board in the fourth. With two outs and no one on, Franklin Gutierrez, Kelly Shoppach and Asdrubal Cabrera all rapped doubles to make the score 4-0. After he walked Jamey Carroll to lead off the fifth inning, Richard's night was done. "As a pitcher, you have to throw strikes, get ahead of batters and sometimes make quality pitches in pressure situations," Richard said. "I was 0-for-3 in those. "I couldn't come out and get ahead of hitters and [I] put the team in rough position. It was just a rough night." The night was anything but rough for Lee, who retired 21 White Sox in a row before Konerko's one-out single in the eighth inning. Joe Crede and Cabrera rapped back-to-back singles to start the ninth, but, just like it started, Lee forced Pierzynski to fly out and Quentin into a ground-ball double play to end the longest 20-game-winner drought by any Major League team. An at-bat hours earlier, though, added a little tension to Lee's postgame celebration. Following the double play, Lee embraced Shoppach then pointed and stared into the White Sox dugout as Pierzynski and a few others watched and chirped. Lee's reasoning? "I was excited." There was, of course, more behind the point-and-stare. Lee and Pierzynski both cited the White Sox catcher's at-bat in the fourth inning as the start of a spat that lasted throughout the game. With a full count, Lee left a pitch up on the heart of the plate that Pierzynski lofted high for an infield popout. Pierzynski slammed his bat in frustration, leading Lee to stare down the catcher and say a few things to him as he rounded first base. "He slammed his bat down and stared me down," Lee said. "I stared him down back. He was chirping at me from the dugout. Actually, I appreciate him doing that. It gave me a little extra energy." Pierzynski agreed about the bat slam, but that was about it. He said he was just frustrated at himself for missing such a good pitch to hit. "It's nothing I haven't heard 500 other guys do," Pierzynski said. It still wasn't enough to cause Pierzynski to overlook Lee's accomplishments on this night and the entire season as a whole. "He only made a couple of mistakes," Pierzynski said. "He's just confident and he's won 20 games, so that's pretty darn good." And so are the Twins and White Sox, who now have 25 games to settle a feud of their own.
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.