After their fourth straight loss suffered Wednesday night at Fenway Park, a 3-2 walk-off heartbreaker courtesy of David Ortiz's second home run on the night, coming off reliever Tony Pena, that chasm just might feel as if it's growing exponentially.
"With the way we're playing, it feels like we have to climb 20 games," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team slipped to 0-3 on this 11-game road trip. "It really feels that way."
Before the White Sox even took the field on Wednesday, they knew there was a chance to gain ground in the division. Detroit dropped its game to the Angels earlier in the day at Anaheim, so all Chicago had to do was solve Tim Wakefield's knuckleball and move back within 3 1/2 games of the Tigers.
Figuring out Wakefield turned out to be easier said than done. The righty returned from a five-week absence due to a back injury and limited the White Sox to one run on six hits over seven innings. The only Chicago run off the knuckleball specialist scored on Gordon Beckham's infield single and Paul Konerko's rare triple in the opening frame.
"Wakefield is amazing," Konerko said. "He's pretty tough. He did another nice job."
"We didn't have many hard-hit balls against Wakefield," Guillen said. "Then you come from Wakefield to [hard-throwing Daniel] Bard. Who is that guy? Pretty good. I would rather face [Boston closer Jonathan] Papelbon than that guy if I am a hitter."
Bard (1-1) and his 100-mph fastball picked up the victory on Wednesday, courtesy of Ortiz's blast down the right-field line against Pena (1-2). But just like the first two games in this series and Sunday's dismal showing at home against the Orioles, the White Sox (63-64) had a chance to tack on runs and take control earlier.
Wednesday's problem came in the fifth, when Carlos Quentin singled off Wakefield, swiped second and moved to third on Victor Martinez's throwing error. Alex Rios couldn't bring home Quentin to break the 1-1 tie, grounding out softly to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, and Alexei Ramirez grounded out to first baseman Casey Kotchman to end the inning.
Konerko was stranded at third with two outs in the first, and the same happened for Beckham with two outs in the eighth. In the past 22 games, the White Sox are hitting .221 with runners in scoring position.
For the season, they are hitting .210 any time a runner is on third base, and .204 with runners on second and third base. A frustrated Guillen said after the game that he might make Thursday's lineup just before batting practice to shake up the team-wide doldrums.
"Everybody takes BP and nobody knows who is playing," Guillen said. "But you have to bring those runs in. They take a lot of wind out of you. You have to bring in those guys. Sooner or later it's going to cost you."
Gavin Floyd kept the White Sox in the game by giving up solo home runs to Ortiz in the second -- a true Fenway special to left -- and to Alex Gonzalez leading off the sixth. Floyd exited after six, allowing five hits, striking out four and walking one.
"Their guy was so good," said Boston manager Terry Francona of Floyd, who threw 66 of his 105 pitches for strikes. "That was two really well-pitched games on both sides."
Scott Podsednik actually tied the game at 2 in the eighth, crushing a 3-2 pitch from reliever Ramon Ramirez for a game-tying home run. It was just the second pinch-hit long ball and sixth pinch-hit in 70 at-bats for the White Sox this season.
Add those rarities in with Konerko's seventh career triple, and the White Sox almost seemed destined to win. Instead, they slipped under .500 for the first time since standing at 37-38 on June 28.
Minnesota's loss to Baltimore left Chicago tied for second in the AL Central, with a manageable division gap in hand. A win in Thursday's series finale would go a long way in helping the White Sox actually feel they are close to the top.
"You lose games here in Fenway and you can get down," Konerko said. "They are tough games and they are a good team and they can make you feel a little short, like you are not a good team.
"This is the time of the year when this stuff goes down. You can give into that the urge of just saying, 'It just didn't work this year.' We have to fight that because there are still so many games left. Not compared to the whole season, but compared to what the deficit is. There are so many games left. In the matter of 72 hours, everything can change."
As for an extra boost of intensity needed for his team, something mentioned in conjunction with the White Sox following Tuesday's loss, Konerko stood behind good on-field play as opposed to some sort of "rah-rah" change.
"I'll take execution and smart play over intensity," Konerko said. "That stuff will win out. Everybody is getting after it here. There's nobody doing anything different than any time during season."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less