Rios, A.J. go back-to-back; White Sox up three

Rios, A.J. go back-to-back; White Sox up three

Rios, A.J. go back-to-back; White Sox up three
CHICAGO -- Take Monday's 6-1 White Sox victory over the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field and place it in the statement-win column.

Not a statement made by the American League Central-leading White Sox (76-64) directly to the second-place Tigers (73-67), who slipped to three games out and watched their elimination number drop to 20. It's more of a statement made by the White Sox to themselves.

Despite seven straight losses to the Tigers coming into the opener of a four-game set, including a pair of three-game sweeps at Comerica Park, the White Sox sit atop the division and don't intend on moving.

"That's fair," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura when asked about the self-statement of the strong showing. "We realize Detroit's a good team, but ... again, [the White Sox] need to realize where they're at and appreciate where they're at and realize they're a good team, too, and just continue to play."

"Listen, they're a great team, but we've been playing well all year to be in this spot," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who matched a career high with his 14th home run, a two-run shot coming in the eighth inning and producing the five-run margin. "We want it. We want it bad. I know they want it. We're just going to fight it out until the end."

During the countless retelling of the White Sox victory before 30,287, much attention will be paid to the back-to-back homers hit by Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski during a four-run sixth that allowed the White Sox to exhale.

And those two sluggers deserve major credit for connecting off Rick Porcello (9-12) and ending a streak of missed scoring opportunities. Lost in the shuffle, though, will be a moment in the third inning when Jose Quintana (6-4) transformed from a rookie starter to a poised veteran.

The Tigers held a 1-0 lead and Quintana already had walked Austin Jackson and allowed Ryan Raburn and his .168 average to reach via a single to center. Quintana fell behind Miguel Cabrera, arguably the best hitter in baseball, 2-1 in the count, leaving the Tigers seemingly poised to break open the game early.

Instead, Quintana came at Cabrera with a 93-mph, low fastball. Cabrera hit the ball hard, but it was right at Alexei Ramirez. The White Sox shortstop started an easy double play, and when Quintana struck out Prince Fielder looking, the southpaw had escaped unscathed and the momentum of the game clearly changed.

"In that situation, really I was just thinking to myself, 'Stay relaxed,'" said Quintana, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "I was trying to get a grounder from him and get out of the inning."

"One of the things he has, he has a lot of guts," said Ventura of Quintana. "We trust him and he's earned that. He pitched a heck of a game."

Even in victory, the White Sox finished a dismal 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position. That total was built up through the team putting a runner on second base with nobody out in the first, second and fourth innings and none of them scoring.

Finally, in the sixth, the White Sox broke through with the help of dismal Tigers defense. After Porcello struck out Kevin Youkilis, Dewayne Wise hit a routine grounder to second baseman Omar Infante. In the transfer from glove to hand, though, Infante booted the ball for an error.

Paul Konerko sent Wise to third with a hit-and-run single to the right of shortstop Jhonny Peralta that probably would have been a groundout for a perfect Porcello sixth if not for Infante's miscue. Rios followed with a three-run blast to left on an 0-1 count, giving him 23 homers and 85 RBIs. Pierzynski was next with a blast to center, raising his career-high long ball total to 26.

"I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit and make solid contact," Rios said. "There's nothing else you can hope for or do."

"When Rio hits that ball," Ventura added, "it just kind of pops the cork on all the angst of not getting guys in."

Monday's victory represents the bare minimum of what the White Sox needed to accomplish in this series, guaranteeing they won't exit this four-game set with anything less than a share of first place.

Quintana, who had given up 12 runs on 12 hits over his previous five innings, ended a personal two-game losing streak while extending the Tigers' slump to four in a row. He allowed one run on seven hits over 7 2/3 innings, fanning seven, before giving way to Brian Omogrosso and then Donnie Veal. Veal retired Fielder on a grounder to second with runners on second and third and two outs, leaving left-handed hitters 0-for-19 with 11 strikeouts against the southpaw this season.

Since sweeping the White Sox from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, the Tigers have a 1-6 record. Their game-by-game run output during this potential division-costing dropoff is 2, 2, 7, 2, 1, 2 and 1. Now, the Tigers have to navigate adversity, while preventing the White Sox statement from turning into a division-winning shout-out.

"We couldn't get a big blow early in the game, and we ended up getting beat by how they beat people," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "They hit two balls out of the ballpark. That's what they do."

"It's tough," Detroit catcher Gerald Laird said. "Everyone's busting their tail. I'm not blaming anybody. We're 25 guys. It's all of us. You play as a team. You go down as a team."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.