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Joe Crede removed all the weight of the White Sox's 10 innings of tension and frustration Tuesday night.
His home run off reliever David Riske overcame the Sox's multiple shortcomings to produce a dramatic 7-6 victory over Cleveland that ignited a wild celebration at U.S. Cellular Field before an ecstatic crowd of 26,147.
"I told my boys I'm not going to lose this division because I have 30,000 managers helping me out," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen quipped after a zany game that saw the Sox trail three times, only to blow a lead in the ninth inning before Crede hit his second homer of the game.
"I've hit a few walk-off homers," Crede said after hitting his fifth career game-ending blast. "But they were either early in the season, or we were out of it."
Crede's game-winning homer, his 19th home run of the season, enabled the Sox to extend their lead to 3½ games over Cleveland in the American League Central with 12 games left. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Indians.
"We want to get to the playoffs, but we have nothing clinched yet," said Crede, who was mobbed at home plate by a contingent led by A.J. Pierzynski, who delivered an RBI double during a three-run seventh.
The Sox stopped short of calling Tuesday's game a must-win situation although they face Cleveland four more times and oppose Minnesota's 2004 AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santanawho has beaten them four times this seasonThursday.
But Pierzynski likened the atmosphere to a playoff game.
Crede bailed the Sox out of some serious embarrassment. Mark Buehrle racked up a high pitch count early and was pulled after Casey Blake hit a home run in the seventh on his 108th pitch.
Buehrle allowed three homers and said he was trying to throw too hard, although Aaron Boone's two-run homer in the second came on an 82-m.p.h. changeup.
"I am concerned about my starting pitchers," Guillen said. "When they have five innings and you've seen they've thrown 100 pitches, that is a reason to be concerned."
In addition, rookie Bobby Jenks blew his second consecutive save opportunity in the ninth. The mess started when Jenks walked Jhonny Peralta on four pitches to start the inning.
Center fielder Aaron Rowand fueled the anxiety when he misjudged Victor Martinez's drive for a double that put runners on second and third.
Guillen elected to play the infield back with one out in the ninth and Peralta scored the tying run on Ronnie Belliard's grounder to second.
"I'd rather be tied in the ninth than down by one," Guillen explained.
The Sox were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, missing chances to take leads in the middle innings as well as the ninth.
Paul Konerko and Pierzynski each hit singles with one out off Riske in the ninth but were left stranded when Juan Uribe flied to right to end the inning.
Uribe, however, had prevented the Indians from tying the game in the eighth when he cranked a throw across his body at shortstop to retire Coco Crisp.
Crede, meanwhile, has ignited the Sox's offense since coming off the 15-day disabled list on Sept. 10. He is batting .419 (13-for-31) with three home runs, four doubles and eight RBIs in 10 games since then.
"This kid can carry the team for two to three weeks," Guillen said. "He's that good."
Guillen took extra delight after the Sox won for only the fourth time in 12 games.
"When you win, the beer tastes better," Guillen smiled.