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Kotsay delivers late, often to lift White Sox

Kotsay delivers late, often to lift White Sox

DETROIT -- A handwritten note was waiting on Ozzie Guillen's desk when he came into his office at Comerica Park following the White Sox 6-4 gut-check victory in 11 innings over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The memo congratulated the White Sox manager for starting Mark Kotsay at first base in the series finale of this four-game set, despite Kotsay entering with a dismal .215 average. It was signed, "KW," meaning White Sox general manager Ken Williams, with a smiley face next to it.

Nothing but smiles could be seen around the White Sox clubhouse coming from a day holding the brief makings of an utter disaster.

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Kotsay, the 34-year-old veteran who was the only player Guillen personally requested back in 2010 from the team's free-agent class, launched a two-run home run in the ninth and then drove a two-strike pitch from Detroit closer Jose Valverde (1-3) into the right-center-field gap for a two-run triple in the 11th, providing the margin of victory. Kotsay's seventh home run looked as if it was simply providing a little comfort for Bobby Jenks to close out the win.

Instead, it kept the White Sox from being walked off when Ryan Raburn launched a three-run game-tying home run to left with two outs. The White Sox (62-46) walked the tightrope to their season-high 16 games over .500, but never completely fell to the ground.

"I know it's very cliché, but it's very important that we did get that win," said Jenks, after blowing his third save in 26 chances. "In the big picture, that inning means nothing as long as we got the win. As cliché as it might be, that's the fact of what happened today."

"You've seen the mindset of this team," Kotsay said. "We've been down in the ninth inning where you would just write us off and we've battled back. We may not win those games, but we haven't given up. There wasn't a letdown in the dugout. We came back in and still felt we had a good chance to win this game, especially with our bullpen. It was a minor hiccup."

The rather large ninth-inning hiccup began on Don Kelly's one-out single and was followed by Jenks hitting Ramon Santiago with a 1-2 curve. It was that particular pitch, in Jenks' estimation, setting up the meltdown.

"What I'm mad about is the 1-2 curveball," said Jenks, pausing as to almost relive that pitch in controlled anger. "That's the at-bat that ruined my day. It's not the home run. That's the frustrating part. That's the one that broke the camel's back right there."

"We picked Bobby up," Kotsay said. "And the theme in here is to pick each other up. We have a different guy contributing each day."

Brett Lillibridge and Andruw Jones delivered two-strike singles off Valverde with one out, beginning Operation Pick Up Jenks, followed by Kotsay's clutch piece of hitting. Sergio Santos (1-0) worked the final two scoreless innings to make his first Major League decision a winning one.

Detroit (53-55) put runners on first and second with two outs in the 11th, once again bringing Raburn to the plate. But a groundout to second baseman Gordon Beckham ended the contest. Santos received the traditional beer shower for victory No. 1, shaking that strange feeling of waiting four months before he got in the win or loss column.

"Kind of [strange], right?" said a smiling Santos. "But with the depth of our bullpen, you can see why, because in crunch time, we have so many guys we can go to. [Matt] Thornton, [J.J.] Putz, these guys do their job and it prevents me from getting my win until a little later."

For the second time in the second half of the 2010 season, a Jenks ninth-inning meltdown cost Freddy Garcia a victory, following a Jenks loss in Minnesota on July 18.

Garcia yielded one run on five hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out four and walking four, while continuing to ease doubt he can be as strong after the All-Star break as he was in the first half. Detroit manager Jim Leyland had more than a few doubts about an offense finishing 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"Took 84-85 mph fastballs pretty much down the middle of the plate for strike one time after time, and then swung at balls," Leyland said. "That's a real poor job of hitting, period -- plain and simple. He flopped over a few slow breaking balls to lefties for strike one to get ahead. He knows how to pitch. But there was one stretch where we took fastballs right down the middle and swung at breaking balls in the dirt."

Three victories in four games for the White Sox put the Tigers on the outer edge of American League Central contention at nine games back. The Twins (61-48), meanwhile, survived their own battle vs. the Rays, giving away a six-run lead in the eighth, only to come back and win in the ninth.

So, the White Sox and Twins march on toward a big September finish, separated still by just 1 1/2 games. At this point, Kotsay looks to be the White Sox designated hitter and Jenks remains the team's closer.

On Thursday, the confidence grew in one and dropped a bit in the other.

"Ask Bobby what he wants to do. I don't know," Guillen said. "I don't say we've lost confidence, but the last three times he blew the game, he gave up three or four runs.

"Right now, I don't know yet. Like I keep saying, when Bobby's the closer, our bullpen is better. But right now, I've got to wait and see what I'm going to do the next couple of days."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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