ST. PETERSBURG -- The White Sox broke out in a five-run sixth inning Tuesday night to beat the Rays, 7-2, the same way they built up their season-high seven-game winning streak.
"They just kept grinding," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You chip away and you chip away, and you finally kind of break through. ... It's the continuous effort of going up there with the same intent, and it finally pays off."
Ventura was talking about Chicago's five straight hits against Rays right-hander James Shields, but he might as well have been referring to the consistent, focused atmosphere he's created in the Chicago clubhouse -- the one that has helped the South Siders win 11 of their last 12 and 15 of 20. They're also in sole possession of first place in the American League Central as Cleveland dropped its game to Kansas City, 8-2.
"People think you get high or you get low, but to be honest with you, nothing's changed from Robin down to the 25th guy. Everyone's the same," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose one-out single in the sixth started a run of five straight run-scoring plays. "Everyone comes here every day and just wants to play and have fun and try to win. ... It's a fun atmosphere to come into every day and enjoy it. Hopefully, we can continue that for a couple more months."
The only unusual aspect of Chicago's sixth-inning rally was the lack of home runs and the absence of a Paul Konerko hit. The first baseman's 14-game hitting streak came to an end Tuesday after he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, lowering his average to .386.
But a bunch of base hits, a double and a fielder's choice did the job just as well, as the bottom of the lineup came through. That kind of situational hitting has been key for the White Sox during their current hot streak, as they have gone 31-for-65 (.477) with runners in scoring position over the last six games. That's put them six games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2010 season and given them their first seven-game winning streak since Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2010.
Adam Dunn led off the sixth with a walk. After Konerko struck out, Alex Rios singled and Pierzynski scored Dunn on a single to right. Dayan Viciedo drove in Rios with a base hit to left, then Alexei Ramirez doubled to center, plating Pierzynski.
Orlando Hudson recorded the fifth straight hit, an RBI single to right, and Alejandro De Aza drove in Ramirez when the Rays couldn't turn a double play on his grounder to second. Gordon Beckham finally brought an end to the inning before Chicago could bat around, grounding into a force out.
"The one to Pierzynski was down and away and he just went out and got it. The one to Ramirez was down and away and he just went out and got it," Shields said. "I made a good to pitch to [Viciedo], and we were playing infield in, he just found a hole. ... I made pitches, but the bottom line is that it just didn't go my way."
"I knew that we were really going to have to grind it out against him," Dunn said of Shields. "He's one of the best in the game. Anytime you get a guy like that where something kind of goes wrong, you need to take advantage of it."
The four-run cushion was more than enough for Philip Humber, who put together his best start since his perfect game on April 21. The right-hander allowed only two runs on five hits while striking out five. His seven innings were the most he'd thrown since the perfect game, and he walked only one batter after issuing 19 free passes in his previous six starts.
His only mistake came on a first-pitch slider in the fourth inning that Hideki Matsui, who was making his Rays debut, bashed into the right-field stands for a two-run homer. Humber said it wasn't even a bad pitch, just a good swing from a quality veteran hitter.
"We just kind of tried to simplify things. My only goal tonight was let's not walk anybody," Humber said. "More so than giving up a lot of hits, I've just been beating myself a lot. That was something I was kind of proud of tonight, just being able to pound the strike zone, and we have a really good defense and let them do their job. ... Overall, a good start and hopefully something I can build on."
Viciedo padded the lead in the eighth with a solo homer to left off reliever Cesar Ramos, extending the club's streak of games with a home run to 15. That's the longest streak for the White Sox since April 21-May 4, 2004, and tied for the third-longest in club history. The record of 17 straight was set in 2000.
"We're playing good. We're swinging the bats pretty good and getting good pitching," Dunn said. "Anytime any team does that, you're going to have a chance to win every game."