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White Sox's road to the top?
'Win and survive" should be the White Sox's theme for the rest of the season.
On the eve of their seven-game trip to American League rivals Minnesota and Detroit, the Sox made the most of six hits, survived leadoff home runs in the first two innings and turned five double plays, including a bold game-ender, to secure a 5-4 victory Thursday over last-place Kansas City.
"Believe me, that can be the season right there," manager Ozzie Guillen said of the upcoming journey. "I don't say it will be, but it could be. We're going to fall too far away or continue to be in the pennant race. They have to know that."
The importance of winning Thursday wasn't lost on Guillen, as he used closer Bobby Jenks in the eighth inning. Jenks, however, was scuffed up before Guillen made a bold move that paid off.
With the tying and leading runs in scoring position in the ninth, Guillen ordered hot-hitting Mark Grudzielanek intentionally walked to set up a double play. The only problem was that the next hitter was slugger Mike Sweeney, who was 3-for-6 lifetime against Jenks.
"It threw me off," Jenks said. "Not at the time, because I didn't know who was on deck. I tried to stay focused on the moment. But I glanced over and said, 'Really. This is gutsy. He's hitting .900 off me right now.'"
But Jenks got two quick strikes on Sweeney, who then hit a grounder to sure-handed third baseman Joe Crede to start the double play that allowed the Sox and their fans to release a huge sigh of relief.
Guillen distributed some of the credit to center fielder Brian Anderson, who quickly retrieved and threw David DeJesus' double back to the infield to prevent the tying run from scoring that inning.
Guillen wisely used speedy Scott Podsednik to pinch-run for slugger Jim Thome with two outs in the eighth, which paid off when Paul Konerko's double scored Podsednik with what proved to be the winning run.
Those were only two of several stops the Sox pulled out from the start. Mark Buehrle allowed a home run to DeJesus to start the game and then surrendered a homer to Emil Brown to start the second.
Fortunately for Buehrle, Pablo Ozuna and Jermaine Dye accomplished the same feat in the bottom of those innings.
After two consecutive shoddy performances, the Sox's defense stood out. In the fourth, Crede caught a one-hop throw from catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and applied a quick tag on Reggie Sanders on a steal attempt to complete an inning-ending double play.
As tough as the Royals played the Sox to a split of their four-game series, Minnesota (70-50) and Detroit present more ominous tasks because they sandwich the second-place Sox in the division standings with a playoff berth at stake.
Ozuna provided some cause for optimism with his homer and bunt single in his first two at-bats from the leadoff spot. He probably will start Sunday against Johan Santana.
The Sox completed a 7-4 homestand, gaining ground on Detroit with 42 games left.
"A week from now, I don't think we'll have any answers on whether we're going to the playoffs," Konerko said. "But if we don't take care of business, we might be going the other way."