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That the White Sox swept Cleveland didn't matter to Paul Konerko. What did was the manner in which they got it done.
After Todd Ritchie stopped the Indians 7-1 Thursday night at Comiskey Park, it was time to stop and take notice of the Sox pitching staff.
"The main storyline is 4 then 2 and then 1," Konerko said, referring to the number of runs Cleveland scored in the series. "That's pretty good against a good lineup that had been swinging the bats pretty well. This should give our pitching staff some confidence. Every time we beat Cleveland in the past, it seems like it had been a slugfest."
Konerko and Kenny Lofton homered off of Cleveland starter Bartolo Colon to pace the offense, while the new-look Frank Thomas doubled and drove in a pair of runs with his new batting stance.
The Sox won their fourth straight game and eighth of their last nine, moving a game behind the Indians in the Central Division. Detroit comes to town for a series with a 2-12 record, having lost 15 of their last 17 meetings with the Sox.
"We've really been playing unselfish baseball," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We knew if we played good baseball, we could compete with anyone."
Ritchie earned his first victory in a Sox uniform and his first April victory since 2000. He lasted seven innings, allowing one run on six hits while throwing 113 pitches. The Sox had scored only seven runs for Ritchie while he was on the mound in his first three starts but matched that total by the seventh inning Thursday night.
"It's real big, to sweep a team like that that has been that hot," Ritchie said. "It proves something, not just to other people, but to us."
Sox starters have combined for a 3.76 earned-run average, third in the American League behind Boston and the Yankees. Most figured in spring training the Sox lineup would produce some runs, but no one could have predicted the early-season brilliance of the rotation.
Konerko kick-started the offense in the second inning with a first-pitch homer off Colon, his sixth straight game with at least one RBI. Lofton homered to right to lead off the third, his 14th straight game of scoring at least one run.
When Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel was asked during spring training of his definition of the perfect leadoff hitter, he said, "Kenny Lofton in 1996." Lofton may not be the same player he was in '96, when he hit .317 with a league-leading 75 steals, but he's already on pace to become the most valuable Sox leadoff man since Rudy Law in 1983. He went 5-for-11 against his former team with six runs scored, improving his average to .426.
The Sox added two more runs off Colon in the third on Magglio Ordonez's RBI groundout and Konerko's sacrifice to stake Ritchie to a 4-0 lead. Colon's two errors helped break the game open in the seventh as the Sox scored three runs to cruise home.
"It has been reminiscent of a midsummer battle," Manuel said.
"We have four games at Cleveland next week," Konerko said. "I'm sure they're going to want to put it on us when we get there. But you can't take these three victories away from us either."
Captions: PHOTO (color): Kenny Lofton watches his third-inning home run against his former team during Thursday's 7-1 White Sox victory. Tribune photo by Scott Strazzante.