CHICAGO -- Brent Morel's first multihomer game stands as the main positive storyline coming from Thursday's 8-1 White Sox victory over the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field.
But Morel almost didn't have a chance to execute his heroics.
With the game tied at 1 in the seventh inning, Alexei Ramirez drew a leadoff walk from Cleveland starter David Huff (2-4) and Alex Rios followed with a single to left. This opener of a four-game set with second place bragging rights in the American League Central on the line didn't feature much offense through six, so White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen decided to play for one run by having Tyler Flowers bunt the runners over.
Flowers failed on two attempts before striking out. Huff was removed for right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann, and the right-handed-hitting Morel stayed in the game and hit a first-pitch fastball for a 404-foot, three-run homer. If Flowers had been successful bunting, then A.J. Pierzynski was going to pinch-hit for Morel.
"Yes, because I wanted somebody to put the ball in play and at least we get a one-run lead. But he couldn't put the bunt down, and I look like a genius," said Guillen with a laugh. "Just let the people know what I was thinking, and I was wrong once again."
"I was fortunate enough to get good pitches to hit and I didn't miss them there," said Morel, who also went deep on the first pitch he saw from Huff with one out in the third to forge an early tie. "The pitching staff did a good job with one run given up, so it was nice to get the win."
Thursday's victory simply held steady the elimination number for the White Sox (72-70) at 12 behind the first-place Tigers (81-62). Barring some sort of 20-game miracle for the White Sox and 19-game collapse for Detroit, holding off the Indians (70-71) seems to be the one remaining realistic team goal to achieve in September.
An 8-3 head-to-head record against the Indians, with seven games left against them, gives the White Sox a decided edge. That statement becomes more of a fact when considering an inconsistent White Sox offense shifts into high gear against Cleveland pitching.
Take the White Sox seventh inning following Morel's blast, for example. Gordon Beckham walked and Juan Pierre, who picked up career hit No. 2,000 with a single to left back in the third, pulled a single to right. Josh Judy replaced Herrmann and hit Brent Lillibridge in the right hand to load the bases, which were promptly unloaded with Konerko's 10th career grand slam.
"It's my first time around. Lesson learned," said Judy, who hung a slider to Konerko. "You can't make mistakes. Good hitters are going to hit mistakes. All the credit goes to him."
"You are not trying to hit a home run," said Konerko. "Just one of those where he threw it and I hit it and you don't really know what you did. You are happy it worked out."
Konerko's 10 grand slams tie Robin Ventura for the all-time franchise lead. His 29 home runs and 97 RBIs leave him just short of a seventh season with at least 30 homers and a sixth season with at least 100 RBIs. He's also at 394 career homers, pushing him past Jim Edmonds for sole possession of 52nd place on the all-time list. His 395-foot drive came at the perfect time to snap a 66 at-bat homerless streak.
Matt Thornton (1-4) earned the victory by striking out three over 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. The hard-throwing southpaw came in behind Gavin Floyd, who labored for 5 2/3 innings and 112 pitches, but only allowed one run on Jim Thome's first-inning single.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't get anything going offensively," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. "We don't match up very well against this guy. Floyd has had a lot of success against us this season, and their bullpen came in and shut us down."
Judy's pitch catching Lillibridge's right hand caused a fractured bone for the White Sox super-sub. An emotional Lillibridge had his right hand in a cast postgame, getting support from Guillen and teammates alike, but he will be done for the rest of the season.
Otherwise, the club's fifth win in its last six games was an uplifting experience. Scoring seven runs in the seventh became the second-highest single-inning output for the White Sox in 2011. Their high-water mark was eight in the fourth inning on Opening Day, against the Indians once again.
If not for Flowers' bunting miscue and Guillen's decision to stick with Morel, this big rally might never have taken shape.
"That was a huge, huge at-bat," said Guillen, referring to Morel's fifth home run and his second of the night. "The last thing that went through my mind was this kid's going to hit a home run to take the lead. But everything worked out well. The ball is jumping off his bat right now. That's why I didn't pinch-hit for him."
"Me personally, I'd like to be a little better," said Morel of his overall season, featuring a .258 average and 30 RBIs. "I had my own goals coming into the season, but I'm not really going to worry about it. I'm going to worry about finishing strong and go from there."