White Sox survive 9th-inning scare from Orioles

After hearing criticism for half a season, the White Sox offense can take some satisfaction that it can support its pitching staff.

A 15-hit attack Thursday night that included a four-run first inning provided enough offense to overcome a ninth-inning bullpen meltdown in a 9-7 victory over the Orioles.

"I have no comment about the bullpen because I don't want to start the second half on the wrong foot," manager Ozzie Guillen said after watching a seven-run lead erode until closer Bobby Jenks induced pinch-hitter Jay Payton, representing the tying run, to hit into a force play.

But the offense, which hit 47 points lower in the first half than it did in the first half of 2006, rebounded quickly to support winning pitcher Jon Garland (7-6).

"I went home and came back and played and had fun. What everybody on this team needs to do now is not worry about where we are in the standings, try to get back to .500 and give ourselves a chance," right fielder Jermaine Dye said after a 3-for-5 performance that included a home run.

The victory was the Sox's 11th in their last 16 games. But the Sox (40-47) still face a double-digit deficit in the American League Central and wild-card races. Dye said there's no need to feel an added sense of urgency.

"I think everyone was ready to get off to a good start," Dye said. "We're playing some tough teams and have to try to win series, give ourselves a chance, not scoreboard-watch and play our game."

Dye was nagged by right leg injuries for most of June, then missed the final two games of the first half because of flu-like symptoms.

Dye was part of a four-run first inning that gave Garland a comfortable cushion against Baltimore rookie starter Jeremy Guthrie, who had the second-lowest ERA (2.74) in the AL entering the game.

"If J.D. (Dye) has a game like he did, it's going to help him mentally be better," Guillen said. "With our lineup, every time we take the field we expect to hit. We did it [Thursday]."

The Sox have hit 19 homers already this month, compared with only 21 in June. They were 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position Thursday and collected five consecutive two-out hits in the first.

Designated hitter Jim Thome started the first-inning rally with a two-out, opposite-field homer that barely cleared the left field wall. Thome has hit four homers this month and he increased his career home run total to 487.

Paul Konerko had two hits and is batting .315 since June 1 in raising his batting average to .265. Rob Mackowiak capped the first inning with a two-run double, and his leadoff double in the fifth sparked a two-run rally.

That left Guillen wondering what would have happened if the offense had performed up to expectations in the first half.

"We'd have 20 more [victories], maybe more than that," Guillen said. "At least 20 more, no doubt because we lost a lot of games, 1-0, 2-0 for a period of almost three weeks.

"Our starting pitching has been very good. They should have more wins, but our offense was very quiet for a long time. Now they start hitting and hopefully they keep hitting for the rest of the season."

And save the bullpen when needed, especially after rookie Dewon Day gave up four consecutive hits to start the ninth and Kevin Millar launched a three-run homer off Boone Logan.

"I think Bobby has a deal with the bullpen," Guillen said after Jenks notched his 24th save.

mgonzales@tribune.com

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