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Baseball Sun Jun 13 2010

Sox Outlast Cubs Again at Wrigley

Big game at Wrigley on Saturday afternoon, with Mark Buehrle and Carlos Silva treating a national (or at least regional) FOX audience to a sharp pitchers' duel that ended with Bobby Jenks and the White Sox hanging on for a 2-1 win.

Addled by patriotism/nationalism/jingoism and memories of one of the ugliest goals in World Cup history, I'm hard pressed to fashion anything more coherent than a hail of bullets. And heck, there's just too much to dissect as the Sox celebrate a season-best four-game win streak and the Cubs absorb three straight losses.

<< WHITE SOX 2, CUBS 1 >>

-- Insurance runs usually only feel momentous in retrospect, but you knew the seventh-inning battle between Silva and Paul Konerko was important even as it was happening. Looking to add to a 1-0 lead, Juan Pierre had led off with a walk and one of the prettiest steals you'll ever see (more details below) before Silva, the Cubs' unlikely 2010 ace, recovered to strike out Alexei Ramirez and retire Alex Rios on a grounder to third base.

That set the stage for Konerko, a 14-year veteran who impresses me more with every at-bat. I knew he was a top-notch power threat, but seeing him every day for the first time this season, I've come to appreciate the intelligence, patience and discipline behind every base hit and home run. No surprise, really, that in his 12th season in Chicago, the Rhode Island native trails only Frank Thomas in the annals of White Sox power hitters. Konerko ranks second in franchise history with 336 home runs, second with 659 extra-base hits, third with 1,062 RBIs and fourth with 678 walks.

Saturday against Silva, he drove in a first-inning run by getting his hands inside a tough pitch and fisting it into right field, Derek Jeter-style. In the third, he got a pitch up and lined it to center for another base hit. Silva won the battle when they met in the fifth, but Konerko had the final word in the seventh.

Silva started him out with two knee-high pitches on the outside corner -- the first called a strike, the second swung through for strike two. Down 0-2, Konerko refused to expand his zone, taking three balls well off the plate. Then, with the count full, Pierre still dancing off second base, came the foul balls -- three in a row before Silva came with a high fastball on the inner half. Konerko fought it off to the opposite field. Xavier Nady seemed to misread the ball or take an awkward route and it fell in for a base hit.

Silva gave a great show of emotion at his misfortune, grabbing at his royal blue cap and hollering, and Pierre scored to push the Sox lead to 2-0. A moment later, Lou Piniella trotted from the dugout and motioned to the bullpen.

-- As promised, let's get back to Pierre's stolen base, because it was a doozy. I continue to have issues with a leadoff man who reaches base only 31.3 percent of the time (and has surpassed .331 once in the past six seasons), but you can't argue with 484 career steals -- 40th on the all-time list and first among active players.

Saturday's seventh-inning theft, his 25th of the season, came despite a pitchout that enabled Geovany Soto to get the ball to shortstop Starlin Castro well before Pierre arrived. But Castro, a 20-year-old rookie, lunged to meet Pierre with a tag three feet from second base and got burned. Pierre, sliding head-first, pulled back his left hand and reached over and around the tag, gaining the base safely before Castro tagged him on the hip. MLB.com has the (non-embeddable) video.

-- Rescued from the scrap heap when the Cubs threw Milton Bradley overboard, Silva famously had started the season 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA. This, his first loss, came on a day when very good wasn't good enough. The way the Cubs are hitting, Silva needed to be perfect, and he lost that bid when the Sox scraped together a first-inning run on a bloop over the shortstop, a seeing-eye grounder up the middle and Konerko's opposite-field single.

As Rob Neyer writes at ESPN.com, Silva has definitely benefited from some luck this season, but there's no reason to think he can't give the Cubs another 6-8 wins the rest of the way. Not bad for a reclamation project.

-- We've spent most of the season complaining about the underachieving Sox starting rotation, but the boys are finally joining the party. Buehrle came with one of his best efforts of the season (6.2 innings, 8 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts) after allowing six runs in each of his past two starts. Like Jake Peavy on Friday, the veteran left-hander shook off those recent failings to continue a string of five strong starts in a row by the Sox rotation. Buehrle, Peavy, John Danks, Freddy Garcia and Gavin Floyd were 4-0 this latest time through the rotation, compiling a 1.60 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 8 walks in 33.2 innings.

-- Derrek Lee continues to struggle mightily in the heart of the Cubs order. The 34-year-old first baseman went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Buehrle and reliever J.J. Putz, giving him a .230 batting average and .698 OPS with a whopping 56 strikeouts. Last season he finished ninth in NL MVP voting in perhaps the second-best year of his career (.972 OPS, .306 BA, 35 HR, 111 RBIs).

-- Ah, the beauty of pitchers hitting: Gordon Beckham doubled with two outs in the top of the sixth, but because he was batting seventh, the Cubs were able to sidestep the threat by intentionally walking Jayson Nix to get to the pitcher's spot. Buehrle, predictably, grounded out to end the inning. Give me the DH any day.

CWS -- 100 000 100 -- 2 9 0
CHC -- 000 000 001 -- 1 10 0

 
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