The truly most important statistics during the White Sox third victory in four home games to start the second half centered on the numbers two and one. Two, as in the runners A.J. Pierzynski threw out, after the White Sox catcher had previously been successful on just 4-of-59 attempts.
And then there was one, as in the one decisive slider closer Bobby Jenks threw to Jason Bartlett on a full-count offering to strike out the Rays shortstop and leave the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning. That pitch helped move the White Sox (48-44) within one game of the idle Tigers (48-42) atop the American League Central.
Jenks (22nd save) actually fanned Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist rather quickly to protect the one-run lead, before issuing a two-out walk to Pat Burrell. Willy Aybar dropped a single in front of left fielder Scott Podsednik to put runners on first and second, with Podsednik situated in a no-doubles alignment and choosing to play the ball safely instead of trying for a spectacular catch to end the game.
"If I'm playing regular depth, I get there with no problem," Podsednik said. "I got a pretty good read on it, but I would have had to make a great play laying out. With the tying run [moving to] second, I didn't think it was a wise play to make."
Pinch-hitter Gabe Gross also drew a walk off Jenks to load the bases and bring Bartlett to the plate. Jenks impressed manager Ozzie Guillen by his pitch selection with the game on the line and the tying run perched at third base.
"You got to have a lot of guts to throw a breaking ball [in a] 3-2 [count] with the bases loaded and two outs and everybody moving," said Guillen of Jenks' final offering, which dipped out of the zone. "That's when you are good and you have confidence in all of your pitches. That's what you do."
"He's always tough," said Bartlett of Jenks. "He threw some good pitches. I might've had one to hit, but other than that, he threw what he wanted and where he wanted."
After throwing out Carl Crawford, the Major League leader in stolen bases, in the first inning, Pierzynski bailed out the White Sox in the eighth. Bartlett was on second after a single off Scott Linebrink and a walk issued to B.J. Upton with one out. Bartlett made a break for third with left-handed reliever Matt Thornton on the mound and the left-handed-hitting Crawford at the plate.
Pierzynski threw out Bartlett by two or three steps, meaning Crawford's ensuing single off Thornton simply put runners at first and second with two outs. Thornton fanned Evan Longoria on a slider to end the rally.
"I thought I had a big enough lead and I thought he was slow enough," said Bartlett, referring to Thornton's delivery. "I don't know if he sped up maybe just that pitch. But I was out by a lot."
Guillen and Pierzynski added a humorous tone to this crucial moment in the final outcome.
"We all have a party after the game for that," said Guillen, with a laugh, referring to his catchers, who entered Monday with a 5-for-77 combined ledger against basestealers.
"I'm pretty sure that's the first time we've thrown out Bartlett, because he's stolen third about 500 times since he's been a Twin and a Ray," Pierzynski said. "I haven't been very good, and we have not been very good as a team. But our pitchers gave me a chance, and I was able to execute."
Gavin Floyd (8-6) was able to execute flawlessly, aside from the season-high three home runs he allowed. Zobrist and Longoria both went deep the old-fashioned way against Floyd, who improved to 6-2 with a 2.41 ERA over his past 11 starts, and Crawford added the third inside-the-park home run in the history of U.S. Cellular leading off the fourth. Podsednik thought Crawford's drive cleared the fence, so he stood against the center-field wall while the ball bounced to the grass. Crawford quickly circled the bases, as right fielder Jermaine Dye went to retrieve the baseball.
Watching Crawford race around the bases brought a weird sense of enjoyment to Guillen, taking in the breathtaking speed possessed by the Tampa Bay outfielder. However, he drew far greater pleasure from the White Sox lone home run. That long ball was Paul Konerko's 18th of the season, and it came in the third off David Price (3-4).
Konerko's laser to left followed Podsednik's double and Alexei Ramirez's single with one out. So the Rays (51-42) won the home run bulk competition, but the White Sox one homer meant the most.
In a game that also featured Podsednik reaching base four times via three hits and a walk and Carlos Quentin knocking out one hit in his first game since May 25, the White Sox started a brutal stretch of the schedule on the right foot. They need the same sort of energy as Monday, as well as the crowd total of 39,024 for upcoming home games, to survive the next 17 straight games against teams with winning records and in playoff contention.
"Really, they are all just baseball games," Podsednik said. "You can't look at one team and say it's any more important than the other one. But we do have a tough stretch in front of us, and it will be a good measuring stick to find out how good we are."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less