"Tonight was Dunner's night," said White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale, who finished with a no-decision after working seven innings and throwing 118 pitches, as the White Sox (82-71) ended their five-game losing streak and maintained their one game American League Central lead on the Tigers (81-72). "He won the game for us, hands down."
"Again, we were struggling to score runs, and [Pestano] is tough," said Dunn, who acknowledged the homer was his biggest career hit to date. "I hadn't been seeing the ball real good. He left the pitch over and it was one I was kind of swinging and missing at for about a week. Just happened to hit the barrel."
That eighth-inning rally began against Pestano (3-3) with a Dan Johnson pinch-hit walk. Johnson battled through eight pitches before coaxing the free pass on No. 9. Kevin Youkilis kept the inning alive one out later with a grounder deflecting off the diving attempt of fellow third baseman Jack Hannahan, setting the stage for Dunn with runners on the corners.
Pestano didn't have good offspeed stuff on Monday, so he went with two fastballs to get two quick strikes on foul balls. Dunn thought that second pitch stood as the one he was going to get to hit and missed, but Pestano made a mistake and Dunn drove it out to right-center for homer No. 41. It was his 34th career multi-homer game and his fourth of 2012.
"I missed all the way on the opposite side of the plate," said Pestano of the fateful pitch to Dunn. "I wanted to come in and move his feet. I just pushed it up and out, right into his barrel."
"We just can't allow a three-run homer to lose the game on a fastball right down the middle on an 0-2 count," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. "That's something that has hurt us in the past. We continue to play young when it comes to those situations."
Until Dunn's eighth-inning shot, it was his 436-foot clout to center off Cleveland starter Zach McAllister in the sixth taking the bulk of attention for the White Sox offense. In cutting the lead to 3-2, Dunn became the sixth White Sox player to hit at least 40 in a season, joining Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome and Albert Belle.
In this time of extreme offensive struggles for the White Sox, scoring eight runs total during the five-game skid, they basically need to clear the fence to get credit for the run. For example, they appeared to score in the fourth against McAllister but never received credit.
Alejandro De Aza unknowingly started the controversy by drawing a four-pitch walk, and Youkilis then ripped a double down the third-base line. When left fielder Vinny Rottino had trouble with the ball in the corner, third-base coach Joe McEwing made the call to send home De Aza.
De Aza appeared to slide in safely and cross home plate before Lonnie Chisenhall's relay throw got to catcher Lou Marson for the tag. But first-base umpire Dan Bellino, who had rotated to cover the plate when home-plate umpire Larry Vanover moved up toward third, called De Aza out.
Replays showed the contrary. That run would have tied the game at 1, with Asdrubal Cabrera having doubled home Jason Kipnis in the top of the third. Instead, Dunn struck out swinging and Konerko grounded out to third base to end the frame.
Alexei Ramirez's fielder's choice in the fifth scored Alex Rios with the tying run, after the White Sox benefitted from an apparent blown call on Rios' steal of second. But Russ Canzler connected off Sale for a two-run, opposite-field shot in the sixth to provide the Indians the lead. Sale allowed a season-high-tying 10 hits, striking out four and walking two, in his first no-decision since June 22.
"They were taking a lot. They were sitting on some good pitches, usually pitches I get some swings out of," said Sale of his night's work. "They got some pitches to hit and they did. Just lost it there for a little bit, but coming back the way we did and getting that win, it was awesome."
"Adam had some big at-bats tonight. Chris was battling," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "It didn't look good in the beginning. It's just a nice way for the offense to battle and keep going."
Brett Myers (3-3) earned the victory, with Matt Thornton and Donnie Veal finishing off the ninth and Veal picking up his first career save. Veal yielded a run-scoring double to Shin-Soo Choo, but retired Kipnis to strand the tying run at second.
It was a team effort that produced the win. It was the bat of Dunn, in search of his first postseason appearance, that kept that playoff dream alive with nine games to play.
"Obviously, everybody wants to get to the postseason but it's just fun," Dunn said. "It's fun right now when every single game matters."