CHICAGO -- With the White Sox digging themselves a deep early hole and then taking much of the 2011 schedule to get back into contention, they've talked collectively over the past few weeks about trying to literally win every scheduled game down this six-week home stretch.
Sometimes, though, in the course of 40 remaining contests, the opposition simply will be better on a given night and there's not much the White Sox can do about it. The latter was the case during Cleveland's 4-1 victory before 25,029 at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night.
Fausto Carmona, whom the White Sox previously had knocked around this year with 18 runs scored on 18 hits over eight innings, truly was outstanding in working 8 1/3 innings. He struck out six and retired 16 via ground balls, as the right-hander completely turned around his rough fortunes against the South Siders for at least this outing.
"He's one of those guys that you look up and see his numbers and wonder why his ERA is so high and how he gets hit around, because he's throwing 95 mph and his ball is sinking all over the place," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who was on the losing end of Carmona's dominant effort. "I'll take his stuff any day."
"In the past, we have taken advantage of Carmona being wild," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "He couldn't find the plate. Today was the best we have saw him in maybe three or four outings."
There seemed to be about three occasions when Carmona got that sinker up on Wednesday, and they resulted in two routine flyouts and Alexei Ramirez's leadoff home run in the second. That blast by Ramirez stood up as the offense for the White Sox (61-61), who finished with just four hits.
An offense that had at least one baserunner in 34 of its previous 36 innings after Wednesday's third inning was retired in order from the fourth through the sixth. This night belonged to Carmona (6-12), who pitched out of his one trouble spot with two runners on and one out in the seventh by inducing a Brent Morel double-play grounder.
"I don't know how many ground-ball outs he had, but it was working," said White Sox catcher Donny Lucy, who finished 0-for-3 against Carmona. "He was pretty impressive."
"As soon as I got up today, I didn't think about what happened in the past," said Carmona, through translator and bullpen catcher Francisco Morales. "I just knew I had to go out there and do my job. What happened, happened, and it was in the past. I got up today like it was a new day."
It's hard for Carmona to forget Opening Day, when he yielded 10 runs on 11 hits over three innings to the White Sox at Progressive Field. Buehrle (10-6) earned the victory in that same game, giving up four runs on eight hits in six innings to a surprisingly potent Cleveland offense, surprising, at least, at the time.
"That first game against the White Sox on Opening Day kind of set him back a little bit, and he's been trying to catch up ever since," said Cleveland closer Chris Perez, who retired Gordon Beckham on a grounder with two runners on in the ninth to record his 26th save. "But he's throwing the ball really well for us since the All-Star break. We need it, he's one of our horses."
While Carmona has struggled to find his way, Buehrle has turned in one of his best efforts amidst an extraordinary decade-long career. Wednesday's victory for Cleveland (61-58) ended the White Sox modest winning streak at three games, but the Indians' offensive output also halted Buehrle's franchise-tying, single-season record of 18 straight games in which he allowed three runs or fewer.
Buehrle allowed four runs on 12 hits over 7 1/3 innings, and admitted the streak was on his mind. But it wasn't so much about personal accomplishments, as it was about helping the team.
"Your goal is to go out and throw a quality start," said Buehrle, who threw 115 pitches and struck out three. "But three runs, four runs, we still lost. You got to tip your hat to Carmona. His ball was moving all over the place and he held our guys down. I was on a pretty good roll. It [stinks] that it came to an end, but everything has to come to an end sometime."
"When you go up against Buehrle, you have to battle every game, because he just does a terrific job of stopping the running game and all that," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. "We were just glad to be able to get those clutch hits."
Guillen praised Buehrle for helping the overworked bullpen, even though he was touched up for more than three runs for the first time since the Tigers scored six over 5 2/3 innings on April 22 in Detroit. Zach Stewart provided an impressive finish by recording all five bullpen outs via strikeouts.
This setback dropped the White Sox to 7-2 on the season against the Indians and 9-3 in their last 12 games overall against the American League. They fell to 1 1/2 games behind the second-place Indians, but stayed 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers (65-58), who lost to the Twins.
Losses are going to happen. The White Sox just can't afford to have those setbacks come in bunches.
"Winning series and keep playing the way we've been playing, if we keep doing that, we like our chances," Buehrle said. "But if Detroit keeps winning and we go on a roll like that, it might be too late. You never know."