CHICAGO -- During the current nine-game White Sox winning streak, extended via Friday night's 7-4 victory over the Mariners, they have won with great pitching, offensive outbursts and airtight fundamental play.
But in this series opener at U.S. Cellular Field, Michael Saunders' face actually factored into the winning equation.
The Mariners (23-31) had rallied from a four-run deficit to forge a tie via two runs in the seventh and two in the eighth, placing the challenge upon the White Sox (30-22) to keep things rolling. Paul Konerko opened the bottom of the eighth with a long fly ball to center on a 3-1 pitch from reliever Shawn Kelley (0-2) and Saunders glided over for what appeared to be an easy chance.
Saunders didn't take his eye off the routine drive, yet somehow it caught part of his glove and then struck him on the right side of the face. That two-base error started a three-run, game-winning rally, with Alexei Ramirez's two-out, infield single and Alejandro De Aza's two-run single doing the damage.
When things are going well for a team, and they are darn near perfect for the White Sox with a 13-1 record over their last 14 games, breaks like this one with Saunders just seem to happen.
"I've been on the receiving end of a ball moving on me and catching it and just being, 'oof,' but this is the first time I've ever been hit in the face," Saunders said. "As an outfielder, you almost have to go out of your way to get hit in the face by a lazy fly ball like that.
"I feel horrible. I'm taking blame for this loss tonight. Kelley pitched his [butt] off and should have been out of there. We should have rolled in with more momentum than we did in the top of the ninth. We'd battled our [butts] off to come back from an early deficit."
That early deficit was built against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who tweaked his back when slipping off the mound in the second inning. Hernandez lasted five innings, but was on the mound long enough to give up Gordon Beckham's first multi-home run game and Adam Dunn's mammoth blast in the fifth.
Dunn's 17th homer gave him 382 for his career and moved the left-handed slugger into a tie with Frank Howard and Jim Rice for 60th place on the all-time list. Beckham extended his hitting streak to eight games, with his mother and father looking on from the stands.
"Those got us going a little bit, but the guys in the eighth inning did all the work," said Beckham, who raised his long-ball total to seven. "That was pretty awesome to come back and win like that after they tied it up."
"We are just playing good," Dunn said. "You know, the games where we aren't scoring very many runs, our pitchers are holding them to less than what we are scoring. For the most part, we are swinging the bats pretty well, especially against a guy like Felix tonight."
This particular contest shaped up like a battle of two potential All-Stars, with Jake Peavy on the mound for the White Sox against Hernandez. Peavy held the Mariners hitless until the fifth, when Justin Smoak's high popup just in front of home plate fell to the left of catcher A.J. Pierzynski and was grabbed by third baseman Orlando Hudson before it rolled foul. It was ruled a very short single.
Smoak's infield hit became a moot point when Dustin Ackley doubled and Kyle Seager homered in the seventh, with Peavy exiting two batters later after a walk to Smoak. Peavy allowed two runs on three hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking three in a no-decision.
"Tonight, he fell behind more than he usually does, but he's a battler," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Peavy. "He's able to kind of fight through that and get through six, which is, for a high pitch count and the way he was going about it, just shows how tough he is."
"To keep them at bay for the most part was a tough task especially when you're not as sharp as you'd like to be," said Peavy, who threw 103 pitches over 6 1/3 innings. "Once again the boys found a way."
Peavy pointed out that the Mariners' offense was no slouch, having scored 31 runs combined over two straight victories against the Rangers, including a 21-8 victory on Wednesday. But the right-handed starter, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain (1-0) and Addison Reed (seventh save) were able to keep the visitors under control for the team's 20th victory in 23 games against the Mariners since the start of the 2010 season.
Cleveland's victory over the Twins left the White Sox with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Indians in the American League Central and a solid six-game margin over the slumping Tigers. This nine-game winning streak includes a six-game run at home, where the White Sox have outscored the opposition, 59-28.
Friday's victory gives the White Sox their longest streak since July 4-15, 2010, although it wasn't a thing of beauty. Just ask Saunders, who had a noticeable bruise under his right eye after the game-changing mishap.
"You see him under it and it kind of bounces away," Ventura said. "I didn't even know what happened. Baseball's weird that way."
"We're doing the right thing. We're coming to work every day and hoping that it's enough," Beckham said. "The last week and a half, it's been enough. But we can't get complacent because this game will humble you real quickly."