Hit batsman gives White Sox the victory
Buehrle suffers bruised left forearm when hit by line drive
CHICAGO -- Using two singles, a pitcher's errant pickoff throw, an intentional walk and a hit batsman to push across the deciding run during the White Sox 4-3 victory over Cleveland Thursday, pretty much defines doing whatever it takes to pick up a much needed win for Ozzie Guillen's crew.
Roberto Hernandez (0-1), the losing pitcher in this ninth-inning battle of attrition, looked at the final at-bat against A.J. Pierzynski in a slightly different manner. The veteran reliever thought Pierzynski getting hit in the left arm simply was a case of the White Sox lightning rod for controversy, often with the game on the line, just being A.J.
In fact, Hernandez wasn't even sure if Pierzynski should have been awarded first base.
"Ask him. Ask him. I've played enough against him. That ball wasn't that [darn] close," said Hernandez, echoing a sentiment amongst the Indians that Pierzynski didn't do enough to get out of the way of the pitch coming at him with the bases loaded and nobody out. "But with the game on the line, bases loaded, that's a way to get a win."
"I can go up there and step into a pitch and get hit," added White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who picked up the win with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, drawing big laughs from the media while kidding Pierzynski. "That's A.J. right there."
Thursday's victory also was reminiscent of so many taut contests that ended in the White Sox favor during the 2005 championship season. The White Sox finished with five hits but made the most of them through good situational hitting to manufacture two of the first three runs. The bullpen allowed a mere two runs on six hits over 7 2/3 innings, with Nick Masset getting verbal pats on the back from his manager and teammates alike for his 4 2/3 innings of sterling relief work.
Yes, it was a textbook victory under Guillen's regime, minus a home run or two, with one very big scare in the second inning. White Sox starter Mark Buehrle was struck just below the left elbow, slightly above his forearm, by a Ryan Garko line drive and exited the game without even throwing a trial warmup pitch. Buehrle said he wasn't worried until he looked down at his pitching arm and saw a bump already forming, which immediately switched him into panic mode and got him to wondering if his arm might be broken.
But X-rays proved negative and Buehrle remains day to day with a contusion. Masset, meanwhile, saw his second extended relief work in three games, giving up Jason Michaels' third-inning home run and really nothing else, fanning two and most importantly, not walking a Cleveland hitter.
"Overall, I'm here for the starters, through thick and thin, whether it be injury or a guy has a tough outing -- it happens to everybody," said Masset, who also allowed four hits. "This is freak stuff that's happened. This is very unexpected by all means. I'm just glad I could help out the team."
"To go down 1-0 on the first hitter of the game for the second time in three days, it's tough," added Pierzynski, referring to Grady Sizemore's leadoff home run. "We battled and our bullpen did a tremendous job. I tip my cap and thank God they pitched the way they did today."
Matt Thornton was the only blip on the otherwise clear White Sox relief radar, allowing Sizemore's eighth-inning single and Michaels' game-tying double, in blowing his second consecutive save. Otherwise, the four relievers held a very powerful Cleveland offense in check.
A quartet of relievers has worked in each of the White Sox first three games, and the bullpen already has combined to throw 19 1/3 innings.
"Through the first two games, no one ever imagined that our bullpen would already be worn down," Buehrle said. "Tip your hat to Masset for coming in and eating up those innings. That could have just ruined our bullpen for the next week or so."
With the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks in part to the bullpen's stellar effort, Jermaine Dye opened the frame with a single to center. Pinch-runner Rob Mackowiak moved to second on Joe Crede's single to left, and both runners advanced on Hernandez's throwing error on a pickoff attempt at second base, as he tried to keep the runner close prior to Tadahito Iguchi's sacrifice bunt attempt.
Iguchi was walked intentionally, loading the bases for Pierzynski. On a 1-0 pitch, Pierzynski appeared to get nicked with a Hernandez cutter. He looked back to home-plate umpire Greg Gibson, while holding up his arm, and quickly received the game-winning confirmation.
"Well, I looked at him and then he kind of nodded," said Pierzynski of the final pitch. "He knew it hit me but he wasn't sure until I made the motion.
"[Hernandez] wasn't trying to hit me and I wasn't trying to get hit. It just looked like it got away from him."
The unusual chain of events in the ninth helped the White Sox avoid the sweep, marking an important early victory with Minnesota and Johan Santana coming to town this weekend. And when factoring in the tenuous way in which this game started, there were a great deal more smiles in the home clubhouse than would have been originally expected.
"That's the way we have to play, pick each other up, do the little things and we will be good -- especially when we struggle," Guillen said. "Our offense is going to be there but baseball is all about pitching and we did it today.
"When you pitch that well and make the plays when you have to make the plays and execute, you're going to win more games," Guillen added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.