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After a frustrating night against one of the American League's toughest pitchers, the White Sox took solace in one thing: They will send ace Esteban Loaiza to the mound Thursday afternoon in their most important game of the season.
"This is a tough loss," Paul Konerko said Wednesday night after the Sox fell 4-1 to the Twins. "But we can't hold our heads down. We have to bounce back because before we know it, we'll be [back] on the field."
After entering the game with five straight victories, the Sox couldn't generate much offense against Twins lefty Johan Santana, giving the crowd of 22,188 little to cheer about.
"This was like a playoff game for us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We didn't want to lose three in a row and then face Mr. Loaiza."
The atmosphere Thursday will be no less intense. If the Sox win, they will take a two-game lead in the AL Central with 16 to play.
If they lose, the advantage swings back to Minnesota. Not only do the Twins play a far easier schedule down the stretch, the three remaining games between the teams will be played at the Metrodome, where the Sox are 7-18 since 2001.
At least the Sox will start Loaiza, who is seeking to be the season's first 20-game winner.
Jon Garland fell to 11-11 Thursday after giving up three runs in seven innings. The Twins broke a scoreless tie in the fifth with a rally that started with a close call at first base.
After ranging to his right to stop Torii Hunter's grounder, second baseman Tony Graffanino threw to first, nearly pulling Paul Konerko off the bag. Umpire Paul Nauert ruled Hunter safe, although replays showed otherwise.
"Was he out? Yeah. I knew he was out," Konerko said. "But that's one of the hardest calls a first-base umpire can have. But that shouldn't be the game-breaking play."
Manager Jerry Manuel, keeping in mind that his team benefited from a bad call a night earlier, said: "Sometimes we get the breaks, sometimes they do."
The Twins took advantage of theirs. Corey Koskie singled to right, and both he and Hunter scored on sacrifice flies.
The Sox cut the lead to 2-1 on Magglio Ordonez's sacrifice fly in the sixth. And they had a terrific chance to score in the seventh after Carl Everett led off with a single, Joe Crede drew a walk and Jose Valentin advanced them with a bunt.
After the Twins replaced Santana with right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, Manuel countered with pinch-hitter Brian Daubach.
Daubach hit Hawkins' first pitch straight into the ground. The ball took a bounce before landing on home plate, allowing catcher A.J. Pierzynski to tag Daubach.
"It was a fair ball," Manuel said. "We looked back at the replay."
Pinch-hitter Roberto Alomar then struck out to end the inning.
Santana, who went 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA in August, gave up six hits over 6 1/3 innings.
"I had a good game plan and I stuck with it," he said. "I moved them off the plate and changed speeds. This was a huge win for us."