The White Sox on Sunday were coming off a Saturday night that seemed somewhere between devastating and demoralizing. Not only had they lost to the Boston Red Sox and fallen into second place in the American League Central behind Minnesota, but starter Jose Contreras had suffered a ruptured left Achilles' tendon.
It was a season-ending, career-threatening injury. Contreras had just come off the disabled list after a bout of right-elbow tendinitis, and the White Sox had legitimate hopes that he would help stabilize their rotation down the stretch.
Plus, the opponents this weekend are the Red Sox, who have dominated the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in recent seasons. Coming into Sunday, Boston was 16-6 in Chicago since the beginning of 2003. That included a four-game sweep last season in which the Red Sox embarrassed the White Sox by a cumulative total of 46-7.
So when Mike Lowell hit a fly ball that turned into a three-run home run in the first inning off Gavin Floyd, there was a sense that a downward spiral was fully in motion. The White Sox had lost a veteran starting pitcher, lost their lead in the AL Central and were in the process of losing again to a difficult opponent.
But that three-run deficit turned out to be just a low point, not an omen of worse things to come. Floyd settled in after the first and kept the Red Sox off the board until the sixth. The Chicago lineup did its part with home runs from Jermaine Dye in the second and Carlos Quentin and Jim Thome in the third. The Chicago bullpen provided 3 2/3 shutout innings. The result was a much-needed, richly-deserved 6-5 victory.
"I always say, 'Let's see how we bounce back,' " said manager Ozzie Guillen. "Especially when you're down, 3-0, before you take the field."
There was plenty of scratching and clawing required, but you're not supposed to roll over the defending World Series champions. The defining moment came in the seventh, when reliever Octavio Dotel entered a bases-loaded, one-out situation, in a one-run game, and got Lowell to hit into a double play. The save would go to Bobby Jenks in the ninth, but this was the game-saving pitching performance. Dotel didn't have to be reminded how important this was.
"We really needed to win, especially this game, against these guys," he said. "It's a big thing, losing Jose, but we've got to step up."
This outcome didn't count any more than the other 64 White Sox victories, but psychologically it had immense value. The injury to Contreras, a respected member of the team, was obviously unsettling.
"A lot of guys were down about that," Thome said.
But the White Sox see themselves as a resilient group.
"That's the chemistry of this ballclub," Guillen said. "They're a veteran team. They get along."
"When we've lost a tough game this game this season, when we've really needed to come back, it seems like we've been able to win a ballgame," Thome said. "That stops the bleeding, and it also gives you a chance to build a little momentum."
This is a veteran club, as Guillen said. The cast includes some truly substantial players, such as Thome, Dye, Paul Konerko, Orlando Cabrera and now, Ken Griffey Jr. But it is Quentin, a 25-year-old who leads the AL in home runs with 31, who has been a focal point for the offense.
Fortunately for the Sox, Quentin is the type of individual the veterans on this team can fully appreciate.
"It's been fun watching him," Thome said. "It's been fun watching him stay humble, too."
Just as Saturday night had been a landslide of negative developments, Sunday turned into a windfall of good news for the White Sox. After they came from behind, defeated the Red Sox and departed The Cell, the Twins lost in 12 innings to the Kansas City Royals.
So the White Sox were once again a first-place team. Based on the way they came back from adversity on Sunday, that is where they deserved to be.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.