It's the ultimate safety net for the White Sox (64-67), whose 8-3 loss to the Yankees (82-48) on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium continued their worst stretch of baseball this season. In this run of 20 games to be played in 20 days, Ozzie Guillen's crew slipped to 2-8.
But with a 1-6 showing on their current 11-game road trip, Guillen knows the White Sox can ill afford to wait until the end of September or the start of October to turn this playoff push into high gear, or into any gear, for that matter. With that thought squarely in mind, Guillen made a bold prediction concerning how this next three-game series in Minnesota could affect his squad.
"I think the next three games, win or we're out," said Guillen of the final series of this road trip that precedes Thursday's makeup game at Wrigley Field. "I'm pretty sure, because the momentum of the ballclub, if we don't win this series in Minnesota, I don't think this ballclub is going to be as high as it can be.
"We have to win the series there. There's no doubt. If we lose this series, it's going to be hard for us to get where we want to get. It's going to be pretty tough, and hopefully, those guys know about it."
The White Sox players clearly understood what Guillen was saying, especially after digesting the Yankees' three-game sweep. While Friday's loss was a heartbreaker courtesy of Robinson Cano's 10th-inning walk-off shot and Saturday's 10-0 setback was a complete debacle, Sunday's game was close until the bullpen yielded five runs in the seventh inning.
Randy Williams and Scott Linebrink were the victims of this particular Yankees rally. Mark Teixeira had just two hits in the series, but his three-run shot off Linebrink put the game out of reach.
Johnny Damon's two-run home run against Freddy Garcia (0-2) in the third proved to be the game-winner, following Derek Jeter's two-out single. Garcia pitched well enough to win, yielding three runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and walked three.
"For three innings, I was a little off, but I got it going," said Garcia, who exited after 96 pitches. "It's no joke, this lineup. It doesn't get any easier when you have to face this lineup two or three times. You can't make a mistake, and if you make a mistake, you pay. It's very hard. You come here, and the ball flies everywhere."
"I just wanted to be aggressive," said Damon of his first-pitch home run against Garcia. "It seemed like I've been taking a lot of first pitches lately, and it seems like those have been the best pitches to hit. I just wanted to get a pitch that I feel like I could drive, and sure enough, it worked out and gave us the lead."
Scott Podsednik's triple and Gordon Beckham's run-scoring groundout gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the first off Joba Chamberlain. They scored another run off Chamberlain in the third on a single from Podsednik, who had three hits, but the White Sox didn't score again until Jermaine Dye homered off Phil Coke with two outs in the ninth.
Singles by Mark Kotsay and Alexei Ramirez put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh, but Phillip Hughes ended the threat by inducing Jayson Nix's flyout to right. The Yankees scored five in the bottom of the frame, dropping the White Sox six games behind the Tigers.
This setback left Guillen in more of a humorously exasperated mood then the embarrassed state he experienced on Saturday.
"[Joe] Girardi is a smart manager. He knew we were going to kick Joba's [butt], and he took him out," said Guillen with a laugh, referring to Girardi's efforts to manage Chamberlain's innings in his first year as a starter. "The only thing I got to say is, we come to New York, and we visit Yankee Stadium. It's a pretty nice ballpark, a very attractive ballpark, and the hotel we stayed at was very nice. That's all I can say."
Sunday's loss now gives the third-place White Sox a number of unwanted distinctions. The six-game deficit is their largest since June 26, when they were 35-38, which is also the last time the White Sox were three games under .500. They also trail the Twins by 1 1/2 games for second.
From the start of the season, the White Sox have been talking about how they were better than their record showed. According to Guillen and some of his charges, this final White Sox series in the Metrodome might be the last time to prove that point if they have any hopes of remaining playoff contenders.
Those six games against Detroit won't matter if they are sitting nine or 10 games out.
"Yeah, we were talking months ago, after we looked at the schedule and saw this series coming up, and saying back then this might be the series that makes or breaks our season," closer Bobby Jenks said. "That's what it turned into."
"We do have six games against Detroit, but if we are five games out, I don't see us winning all six," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who will pitch on Wednesday in Minneapolis. "They are too good. We need to start playing better. If we aren't winning, we can't worry about what they are doing."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.