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The White Sox survived seven innings of restlessness and frustration Wednesday night with an inning of urgency that provided relief.
Tadahito Iguchi's two-out, two-run, game-tying home run in the eighth inning helped a retooled middle of the batting order produce a zany 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.
Jermaine Dye's single and stolen base then set up Jim Thome's line-drive single off the glove of a diving Rocco Baldelli in center field for the go-ahead run.
Thome's hit celebrated his return after missing five games because of a left hamstring strain. Thome also batted in the cleanup spot for the first time since joining the Sox because manager Ozzie Guillen wanted to take advantage of Dye's hot hitting as well and not force Thome to push himself on the basepaths.
But Guillen said after the game Thome tweaked his leg and would be held out of Thursday afternoon's series finale as a precautionary measure. Thome said he expects to play Friday.
The late-inning heroics couldn't have been timed better for the Sox (78-54), who cut their deficit in the American League Central to 4½ games behind Detroit (their smallest deficit since July 19) while expanding their lead in the AL wild-card race to 1½ games ahead of Minnesota.
The victory was punctuated when right fielder Dye caught Baldelli's line drive for the second out in the ninth inning and threw to first. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski alertly told first baseman Paul Konerko to throw to second because rookie Ben Zobrist didn't re-tag second before retreating to first. Second-base umpire Joe West then called Zobrist out on the appeal to end the game.
Guillen extolled the clutch offense from Iguchi and Dye and heaped more praise on Dye for his heady defense.
The Sox were persistent after they stranded six runners in scoring position through the first six innings and took advantage of only one of three Tampa Bay errors through the first seven innings.
Jon Garland (16-4) survived a three-run first to tie for the major-league lead in victories. It was his fourth consecutive victory and 12th in 13 decisions.
"Garland, after the first inning, threw the ball the way he did the last 15 outings," Guillen said. "I think Gar deserves this one."
The winning rally started when Juan Uribe cracked a double down the left-field line. With two outs, Iguchi ripped a pitch off Brian Meadows over the fence in left-center.
Seven of Iguchi's 14 homers have come in the seventh or later.
Guillen said Dye stole second on his own, setting up Thome's game-winning hit.
The late-inning rally lifted a cloud of frustration that reached its peak when fans booed Scott Podsednik after he popped out to shallow center with runners at second and third in the sixth.
"We didn't execute early in the game, and that cost us a lot of runs," Guillen said after the Sox were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
It was an eventful night for the Sox, as Konerko batted in the fifth spot for the first time Aug. 5, 2004, at Kansas City, and he hit a double and scored the Sox's first run in the fourth.
Baldelli hit Garland's second pitch of the game over the fence in left-center to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. Baldelli's blast also snapped Garland's streak of 23 consecutive innings without allowing a homer.
The Devil Rays expanded their lead on RBI singles by Greg Norton and rookie Delmon Young, who also hit a ground-rule double on a 3-0 count in the sixth.
The three runs Garland allowed in the first were more than he surrendered in his three previous starts and his most since the Yankees scored six in snapping Garland's eight-game winning streak on Aug. 9.