Hot Sox move into first place
DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Sun-Times Media May 29, 2012 11:18PM
Chicago White Sox's Alexei Ramirez, left, celebrates a run by teammate Adam Dunn during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The White Sox won 7-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
SOX AT rays
The facts: 1:20, Ch. 9, 670-AM.
The pitchers: Jose Quintana (1-0, 1.54 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (2-0, 2.25).
Updated: July 6, 2012 8:54AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — All Philip Humber wants is to be along for the ride.
And what a ride it’s fast becoming for the rolling White Sox.
Extending their winning streak to seven and winning for the 11th time in their last 12 games, the Sox (28-22) used a long-awaited top-notch start from Humber (2-2) and a five-run sixth inning that featured five consecutive hits from the bottom of the order to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-2.
With the Indians’ loss to the Royals in Cleveland, the Sox have climbed into first place in the American League Central. Following Chris Sale’s 15-strikeout game Monday, the Sox will go for a three-game sweep in Wednesday’s series finale.
“We have a very talented group of guys in here — look at what Sale did last night; there aren’t too many left-handed arms like that in the game,’’ Humber said. “If we get him rolling like that, keep swinging the bat like we’re swinging and me and Johnny [Danks] can pick up our slack a little, we’re going to be a force.’’
Humber hadn’t won since his perfect game on April 21, an unsettling trend with an 0-2 record and 8.22 ERA over six starts since Seattle.
Humber gave up a two-run homer to Hideki Matsui in his second at-bat as a Ray to put the Sox in a 2-0 hole, but he retired 10 of the next 12 Rays and turned a 7-2 lead over to Matt Thornton in the eighth inning. Thornton, who has been on track since he watched video of when he was at his best in 2010, made his seventh consecutive scoreless appearance. Hector Santiago pitched a scoreless ninth.
“This mini-run we’re on feels good; it’s a blast,’’ Thornton said. “We’re playing good baseball. Our offense is exploding.’’
It was the 10th comeback win for the Sox.
And it started with A.J. Pierzynski in the middle of the five-run sixth. Pierzynski drove in Adam Dunn (walk) with the first run against James Shields (6-3), and Alex Rios, Dayan Viciedo and Orlando Hudson also singled (the latter two through drawn-in infields). Alexei Ramirez doubled in Pierzynski, who clapped hands almost everywhere he went — at first, third and home. Pierzynski was enjoying his competition with Shields.
“James and I know each other; he’s [former teammate Aaron] Rowand’s cousin, so we’ve known each other forever,’’ Pierzynski said. “I know he hates me getting hits off him, and I hate making outs against him. He’s a big-game guy, an All-Star. It’s not fun to face him.’’
Viciedo (3-for-4), who extended the Sox’ homer streak to 15 games — their longest since 2004 — hit his 11th in the eighth inning. He’s 13-for-25 with four homers and 12 RBI in his last six games.
“He’s good; he realizes that,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He has that confidence going up there no matter who he’s facing.’’
The Sox were 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position and are 31-for-65 in their last six games.
“They don’t give in, and they don’t punch out in crucial moments,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Winning has made coming to work fun, but the Sox insist it has been that way since spring training.
“From Day 1, nothing has really changed,’’ Pierzynski said. “From Robin to the 25th guy, everyone has latched on to doing what he can do that day to help us win. And it’s a fun atmosphere to come into. Hopefully we can continue that for a couple more months.’’