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Loaiza gets 15th win, helps Sox take series
Esteban Loaiza explained the mind-set that had just enabled him to win his 15th game of the season and triggered his teammates into calling him a candidate to win the Cy Young Award.
"When I throw the ball, I'm in charge of a game," Loaiza said. "I study the hitters and study reports. Then I just go out and battle."
Loaiza battled and he was in charge Sunday. He beat the Oakland Athletics and their 21-year-old rookie sensation Rich Harden 5-1 before 29,442 fans at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory improved Loaiza's record to 15-5 and kept the Sox a half-game behind the first-place Kansas City Royals.
Beside Loaiza's four-hit pitching over eight innings, the Sox benefited from clutch two-out hitting in the fifth inning by veterans Roberto Alomar, Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas.
And the Sox also prospered because they fought Harden at the plate and fouled off 32 of the rookie's pitches, running his pitch count to 109 in the five innings he worked.
Alomar fouled off two pitches in his seven-pitch at-bat that ended with a single to center with two out in the scoreless fifth. That bought up Lee, who credited Alomar with capturing Harden's attention and drawing a couple of throws to first by jittering off the bag.
"I think the pitcher started to worry more about Robbie than me," Lee said. On an 0-2 count, Lee tripled into the right-field corner, and the Sox led 1-0.
Thomas, the next hitter, fouled off three pitches in an eight-pitch at-bat. Finally Thomas lined a double off the fence in left, scoring Lee with the eventual winning run.
"They battled on those two-out hits," manager Jerry Manuel said. "They wouldn't give away an at-bat. Those two-out RBIs by Carlos and Frank were significant, and Robbie is a veteran. He knows how to play."
"Frank was fighting to stay alive," Lee said. "He was fouling off good pitches until he got one he could drive."
Lee, whose name is never mentioned in the same sentence with "Gold Glove," made the most memorable catch of the errorless game. In the seventh inning he raced across the left-field foul line, slipped and fell, yet was able to haul in Erubiel Durazo's sinking foul fly while on the seat of his pants.
"Yeah, I planned that one," cracked Lee. "I wanted to make the highlight show."
Elsewhere around the Sox clubhouse, players were hyping Loaiza for the Cy Young.
"He has lot better stuff than people think," said Paul Konerko, who homered in the sixth to build the lead to 3-0. "He has confidence that he can get everybody out. He believes in himself, and we believe in him."
"It's fun to play when he's on your side," shortstop Jose Valentin said.
Loaiza struck out six, walked only one, lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.24 but lost his shutout when A's catcher Adam Melhuse hit a solo homer in the eighth.
Melhuse's homer made the score 3-1. The Sox scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth, one on Carl Everett's 21st home run of the season.