CHICAGO -- It was one of those games that Jake Peavy is going to remember for a while, and not for a good reason.
Instead of using an early three-run lead and a dominant three innings to his advantage against the Rangers on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field -- he struck out the side in the third -- Peavy lost it in the fourth and sixth, which turned out to be critical junctures in a stinging 7-4 White Sox loss.
In both frames, left-handed-hitting designated hitter Mitch Moreland made Peavy -- a right-hander -- pay dearly for walking right-handed-hitting Mike Napoli with two outs in front of him. Both times, Moreland deposited fastballs into the stands, accounting for five runs and immeasurable frustration for Peavy -- who's in a rut where one or two bad innings ruin otherwise strong outings.
"Mike Napoli is swinging the bat as well as anybody in the league, but I want to face a righty right there over Moreland," said Peavy, whose ERA inflated to 5.06 after he allowed seven earned runs in six innings. "I just got behind him twice and challenged him, and he won both. I've just got to make better pitches."
Both Texas rallies began with two-out singles and Peavy -- who owned a streak of seven straight starts (49 innings) without allowing a home run -- took the full brunt of blame for allowing the innings to balloon. He also allowed a shot to Josh Hamilton to lead off the sixth, giving Texas a 5-4 lead, but that one didn't bother him as much as Moreland's pair, and what led to each.
"I can see flashes of who I want to be and who I have been in the past," said Peavy, who underwent a unique shoulder surgery last year to repair a detached lat muscle. "Being able to maintain that has been hard to do, there's no doubt about it. I do look forward to next year, but at the same time, this team's not playing for next year. I'm playing for [right now] and trying to find a way to win. I had good enough stuff to do that tonight, and if I bear down and make a pitch in either one of those innings, with two outs in the inning, it's a way different ballgame."
Texas manager Ron Washington said the first couple of hits that got everything going against Peavy in the fourth -- which were also the Rangers' first hits of the game -- were key. Michael Young singled and Nelson Cruz doubled him home before Peavy walked Napoli to set up Moreland's first homer of the game and 15th of the season -- a three-run blast that landed a few rows up, just right of the batter's eye, in center field.
"We're a grinding team," Washington said. "I think the first three innings, you've got to give Peavy credit. He was hitting his spots, he wasn't missing any spots and making good pitches. [Young] finally got the base hit and Cruz got a double, and from that point on, he wasn't as consistent hitting his spots."
The Sox offense also wasn't as effective as it was early.
Despite knotting the game at 4 in the fifth, Chicago couldn't muster a single hit in the final four innings off the Rangers' bullpen -- which featured 2 2/3 scoreless innings by Yoshinori Tateyama, and Neftali Feliz retired the side in the ninth for his 25th save.
It was another bitter loss to swallow for the White Sox, who lost for the third straight time and are now 3-4 on the current homestand. The loss also dropped third-place Chicago to 61-63 overall, five games behind Detroit in the American League Central.
The White Sox frustrations boiled over in the bottom of the eighth, when mild-mannered shortstop Alexei Ramirez was ejected for the first time in his career for arguing a called third strike on a pitch low in the zone.
"The only thing I told the umpire about it is that I knew it was a ball because this kid never argues balls and strikes, and he's just a very calm kid," said manager Ozzie Guillen. "Besides that, I don't think he understood what [Ramirez] was saying."
Guillen's response drew some laughs, but the way this game unfolded was no laughing matter to the Sox, whose turbulent season was much like this game. They've followed the good times with an equal amount of bad, and time is now starting to run out on what's left of the regular season.
"We're in a tough spot, there ain't no doubt," Peavy said. "Five games back. We've got to get hot as ever to make a run. There's just no other way about it. We've got 40 or so games left. We've got to roll off a pretty big number -- you know, 25-15 or 30-10, if we're going to make this thing happen -- if Detroit just plays .500 ball. We're in a tough spot, and we've just got to come back out and try to win."
Before Peavy's two-out meltdowns, Chicago showed several glimpses of why the AL Central title is a realistic goal. After Peavy set down the Rangers in order to start the game, the Sox quickly generated a pair of runs in the bottom of the first against Texas starter Matt Harrison.
Juan Pierre's hot streak continued with a leadoff single, stolen base and run scored on Carlos Quentin's double, which was followed by an RBI single from Ramirez to put runners at the corners with just one out. The Sox, however, let Harrison off the hook when Alex Rios grounded weakly to the mound and Tyler Flowers struck out.
They added another run in the second after a leadoff triple by Brent Morel, but that inning also ended before the Sox could turn it into something bigger. At the time, it seemed like it might not matter with the way Peavy was throwing.
Guillen had the option of taking Peavy out sooner, especially sbefore Moreland's second blast made it 7-4 with two outs in the sixth. Guillen ended up using reliever Josh Kinney -- called up on Friday to replace injured starter Philip Humber -- for the final three innings, and he was strong, allowing just one hit while striking out six. Guillen didn't even consider making the move earlier with Peavy on the mound.
"[Peavy's] already got like 90 pitches and my bullpen is very thin right now," Guillen said. "The bullpen was overused a little bit the last couple of games, and I wanted to try and stay away from them. But ... you've got that many pitches, and he just made a bad pitch to the wrong people. Against their lineup, you make a mistake and you're going to pay a big price."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.