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In the first half of the season, when the White Sox epitomized unfulfilled potential, some thought their lineup was flawed. But it has been a while since anyone suggested breaking up the four right-handed run producers who have manned the middle of the lineup since 1999.
Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko are carrying the Sox toward a September to remember.
Thomas and Lee hit long home runs Saturday night, providing Jon Garland all the support he needed in a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers before 15,786 at Comerica Park. The victory evened the series and sent the Sox back into first place in the American League Central.
Kansas City, which had led by percentage points, was rained out against Anaheim and will play a doubleheader Sunday. Minnesota was one game behind pending a rain-delayed game at Texas.
In raising their record to 3-2 on the trip and 27-15 since the All-Star break, the Sox gave Detroit its 100th loss and pushed lefty Mike Maroth (6-19) to the doorstep of infamy. He became the first major-leaguer to lose 19 games before September since Roger Craig in 1963 and will be hard-pressed to avoid becoming the first to lose 20 games since Brian Kingman in 1980.
Garland (10-10) struck out eight in six innings before Scott Sullivan, Damaso Marte and Tom Gordon teamed for three innings of scoreless relief. Jose Valentin and Tony Graffanino turned two inning-ending double plays, including a no-touch flip from Valentin's glove to Graffanino that allowed Garland to escape a bases-loaded mess in the sixth inning.
"The guys turning those double plays was huge," manager Jerry Manuel said. "When you get those types of defensive plays in the clutch, eventually, with the offense we have, you'll break a game open."
It was a night for the men in the middle. Consider:
Thomas lined a 3-2 pitch from Maroth over the left-field wall with two outs in the third inning for a three-run homer. It was his 10th homer in the last 12 games and his 38th overall, bringing him within one of Alex Rodriguez's AL lead.
"I haven't really been trying to hit home runs," Thomas said. "I've been getting good pitches to hit and taking advantage of them."
Manuel believes Thomas, along with two of his teammates, could put themselves into serious consideration as the AL's MVP.
"The guys that take over their team this time of the year, for me, are guys who should be the MVP," Manuel said. "Obviously you have to have the [season] numbers, too, but if you can take your team and put it on your back this time of the year, that's MVP stuff. That what [Jason] Giambi did to [Thomas] in 2000. That could happen here. There's an opportunity for Frank Thomas, Magglio or Carlos Lee."
Ordonez, who appeared to have suffered a serious injury to his index finger Friday night, toughed it out to stay in the lineup. He was 1-for-3, extending his hitting streak to seven games and giving him a .381 batting average since July 1.
Lee blasted a two-run, two-out homer to left field off Maroth in the seventh. It gave him 27 homers and a team-high 94 runs batted in. One pitch before the homer, Lee had squared as if to bunt. "The guy came back inside, and boom, he hits a home run," Manuel said.
Konerko quietly went 2-for-4 with a double. It was his fifth consecutive game with at least two hits. He's hitting .336 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in his last 42 games.