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White Sox lose control of AL Central lead

(Nam Y. Huh (STF))
White Sox pitching coach Don Coope (left) talks with catcher A.J. Pierzynski (center) and relief pitcher Nate Jones during the sixth inning Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field. Sox pitchers walked 12 batters, including two by Jones, in the Sox's 6-4 loss.

CHICAGO – Commence the scoreboard watching.

The White Sox have only themselves to blame after they handed away their division lead. With seven regular-season games remaining, Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians was yet another devastating blow to their postseason hopes. This time it cost them possession of first place in the AL Central after Detroit’s win against Kansas City.

“This was a tough game out there tonight,” Paul Konerko said. “We didn’t deserve to win that game. This is the big leagues, and you’ve got to play all nine innings and you’ve got to play them well to get a win.”

Forget stumbling to the finish line. The Sox are barely holding their season together after their seventh loss in eight games. It’s one thing to lose games when a team is playing good baseball, but the Sox are a shell of the team that had been alone atop the AL Central all but two days since July 25. Now they’re at Detroit’s mercy. Winning games obviously is a must, but they need the Tigers to falter to overcome the one-game deficit.

“We’re going to continue to battle,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We’re going to scratch and claw. We don’t plan on going anywhere. We plan on playing hard and finishing up.”

Poor command hurt the Sox’s pitching staff Wednesday. Six pitchers combined to hand out 12 free passes, extending the innings and giving the Indians, one of the AL’s worst teams, too many chances. In all but two innings the Sox retired the leadoff hitter, yet they failed to record a perfect frame until Jesse Crain shut down Cleveland in the ninth.

“That’s just one of those, we had about the same number of hits and we just gave them a lot of base runners tonight,” Ventura said. “I mean, honestly, they did a good job of getting out of most of it. We were asking them to do a lot and we just came up short.”

Their only saving grace was Cleveland’s inability to capitalize on the walks, only two of which eventually scored. However, the Sox’s offense again floundered and managed just one run after their three-run first. The Sox failed to truly cash in on the bases loaded, no-out opportunity against a struggling Justin Masterson, though it put the Sox ahead 3-1 in the first.

Rookie left-hander Hector Santiago, in a spot start, kicked off the Sox’s struggles to locate in the zone. He walked four batters in 3 1/3 innings.

“I started trying to nibble, nibble, nibble instead of trying to get guys to chase and going after them,” Santiago said. “It’s only one game [back]. … [Today] is a new start for us and just go out and hopefully the same thing happens and we just climb back up.”

Ultimately the Sox left nine runners on base and finished 3 of 13 with runners in scoring position. Clutch hits have eluded the Sox, who have stranded 58 runners on base in their last nine games.

“We needed home runs,” Ventura said. “We did everything else but a home run would have been nice.”

• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at mmontemurro@shawmedia.com.

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