The White Sox suffered the equivalent of a torture test Saturday. It leaves them resigned to resolving their latest problems internally, with time running out.
The bullpen absorbed its latest blow as Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal and Boone Logan walked four batters during the seventh inning of a 7-4 loss to the Oakland A's.
Those walks led to four runs as the Sox fell for the 22nd time in their last 26 games at McAfee Coliseum.
It also left them with no time to tinker with a bullpen that has walked 20 and has a 7.94 ERA in its last 222/3 innings over nine games.
That's because Thornton and MacDougal, who was making his first appearance since Sept. 9 because of tightness in his right shoulder, had been the only reliable late-inning pitchers setting up closer Bobby Jenks.
The frustration was complete after former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas hit a two-run home run off starter Javier Vazquez in the sixth inning that cut the Sox lead to 4-3.
"We have two more weeks and [the relievers] are going to be run out there again," said manager Ozzie Guillen, who banned his players from watching football in the clubhouse before Sunday's series finale.
"Hopefully, things change, and we pitch better. When you take the lead with the bullpen we have, we should win the game."
Guillen said Thomas' homer, his 37th, changed the game's complexion.
"All of a sudden they got back in the game," Guillen said. "After that, they scored again, and the bullpen can't do their job. We kept walking people in tough situations. You come in from the bullpen and can't throw a strike even with these guys taking a lot of pitches."
The Sox are well aware that A's hitters are known for their patience.
"[But] those walks were obviously walks," catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. said. "They didn't have to be patient. We were a little wild, but that happens sometimes."
The defeat couldn't have come at a worse time.
The Sox blew a chance to put the pressure on American League leader Detroit and AL wild-card leader Minnesota, who both won on Saturday night. The Sox trail the Tigers by five games and the Twins by three with 14 games left. "We just got to try to get wins," Alomar said. "We can't worry about them. We have to do our part. If we don't win, we're not going to make it."
Guillen had planned for the left-handed Thornton to pitch the seventh, followed by MacDougal in the eighth and Jenks in the ninth.
But Thornton issued a two-out walk to Jason Kendall and MacDougal gave up a game-tying single to Mark Ellis. He then walked Milton Bradley and Thomas in succession to force in the go-ahead run.
Logan walked Eric Chavez to force in another run and Jay Payton's single off Dustin Hermanson capped the rally.
"It wasn't a good day," MacDougal said.
"There's not much more you can say at all. I felt pretty good. I just didn't throw a pitch when I needed to."
The Sox lost consecutive games for the first time since dropping three straight Sept. 3-5, but they haven't won more than three straight since running off five in a row Aug. 10-14.
"Every time we lose a game, we're digging a hole for ourselves," Guillen said. "Every game for the past two weeks to a month has been big."
Lately, the offense also has come up short. The Sox stranded 11 runners and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position against Barry Zito, who tied a career-high with seven walks.
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