Minnesota topped Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon to earn a four-game split with the playoff-bound Rays at Tropicana Field. Approximately 15 minutes later, the White Sox finished off a series win at Kauffman Stadium with a 3-0 whitewash of the Royals.
Manager Ozzie Guillen dubbed this series finale against the division cellar dwellers as the biggest game of the year during comments following Saturday's loss and as part of his Sunday pregame media session. Although important to the overall scheme of the standings, this game against Kansas City will seem like Spring Training Cactus League action once Chicago takes the field on Tuesday night for three games at the Metrodome.
Holding a magic number of five to clinch a playoff spot and a 2 1/2-game lead over the Twins (84-72), the White Sox (86-69) enter this marquee matchup one game better than they left Chicago last Sunday night, despite a 3-4 showing to date on this 10-game trip. According to White Sox captain Paul Konerko, a series victory over Minnesota all but guarantees his team's second postseason appearance in four years.
"If we have a bad series, I don't think it's the end of anything," Konerko said. "But if we have a good one, that should do it. That's our goal."
"Everything happens for a reason, so it's a good time to go in there and battle for it," White Sox catcher Toby Hall added. "We've got a great team, we've got great chemistry and we'll have fun when we get there."
Much of the White Sox fun on Sunday, during a victory building a little momentum into Minnesota, came from John Danks' effort on the mound. Danks had been out of action since last Sunday night's contest against Detroit, as Chicago aligned Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd for the Twins by working them on three days' rest.
Maybe the White Sox should give a little more consideration to Danks (11-8), at least for a possible postseason rotation spot. The southpaw extended his scoreless-innings streak to 13 straight by putting up zeros for seven innings against the Royals. Danks yielded just four hits, striking out three and walking one, as he won for the first time since Aug. 16.
Danks mentioned on Saturday afternoon that he felt great during a side session thrown on Friday, but wasn't completely sure how that sort of plus-stuff would translate in live action against the Royals. The answer came in the affirmative during a victory taking two hours, 28 minutes to complete.
"I think the rest was good," said Danks, who threw 65 of his 94 pitches for strikes, and figures to start on Friday at home against the Indians in what could be the division clincher. "But at the same time, I want to be out there as much as I can and have them give me the ball. I want to be relied on down the stretch."
"He threw the best one when we needed it," added Guillen of the starter. "Danks was just outstanding."
Konerko allowed Danks and the White Sox to exhale in the seventh, when he drilled a two-run shot to left off Brandon Duckworth (3-2). Konerko's 18th home run, a 407-foot blast, turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 comfort zone.
But it was Dewayne Wise who set the tone in the first inning with his aggressive maneuvering on the basepaths. Wise singled off first-base umpire Paul Schreiber with one out and moved to third on Jermaine Dye's singe to left.
Wise then tagged up and scored the game's first run on Jim Thome's sacrifice fly caught by shortstop Mike Aviles as he headed out of the infield. It's the sort of aggressive move Guillen loves to watch and called for in this instance.
"On the fly ball, I was halfway and basically didn't know what I should do," said Wise, who moved from first to third when he saw David DeJesus relax on Dye's single. "I saw the shortstop going back to catch the ball, and I heard Ozzie telling me to tag, so I went and took my chances. I had a good chance because his momentum was going toward the outfield. He would have to catch it, turn around and throw it back home. That's why I tagged up."
"That set the tone right away," Guillen added. "That's why I say speed never gets into a slump. The baserunning this kid did was outstanding. We don't score that many runs the way we did in the first inning, and it was great for the ballclub."
A division title now sits seemingly a few feet away from the White Sox, with a three-game sweep of the Twins locking things down on Thursday night. Anything short of a Minnesota sweep leaves Chicago in position to celebrate at home, a feat it did not accomplish at any of the four celebratory points of 2005.
Guillen has few complaints entering Minnesota. He hopes that smile is even broader and maybe a little champagne soaked by the time the White Sox return home on Thursday night.
"Hopefully, we've got the last laugh," Guillen said. "Right now, I'm pretty happy, but how we finish the road trip, that's the most important thing. I think we're ready. I think those guys should be prepared mentally to go out there and play hard and play good. We play OK, they play OK. It's about who plays better that week."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.