White Sox 5, Royals 4: The balk that set off fireworks

With two outs and a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth, Adam Dunn came to the plate. His night already included anger, tears, laughter and triumph, and this at-bat would decide what kind of movie he was making.

When Aaron Crow leaned forward before interrupting his coming to a set by stepping off the mound, the verdict was in: A laugh riot.

Ed Rapuano and A.J. Pierzynski called the balk at the same time, which allowed the winning run to score and the Sox to return to .500.

It's fitting that the game ended with a Dunn-Crow matchup, because they were truly on opposite ends of the game-enjoyment spectrum. Dunn received boos in his first at-bat for striking out, then wild applause when Jeff Francouer couldn't come up with a rather routine sliding catch in right, giving Dunn his second hit off a lefty in 55 at-bats. Dunn ramped up the cheers when he doffed his helmet in response.

The sarcastic curtain call foreshadowed a genuine one in the offing. Dunn came to the plate in the eighth to face Crow, the newly minted and undeserving All-Star, after Brent Morel led off with a high-chopper single. Crow threw him a 96-mph fastball over the plate and thigh-high, and Dunn hit a moonshot that carried just over the wall in right for a go-ahead homer.

Of course, Dunn wouldn't be credited with the game-winner, because on the first pitch in the top of the ninth, Eric Hosmer took Sergio Santos over the center field wall. It was initially ruled a triple when the ball bounced back on the field, but replay showed that it clearly cleared the wall before hitting a railing. That tied the game, and Santos was lucky to escape with no further damage -- he gave up three hits, and Brent Lillibridge and Carlos Quentin had to make tough catches on the ones that were playable.

Santos, of course, ended up with the win. Pierzynski led off the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit single, moved to second on Gordon Beckham's bunt, and then made it to third on a wild pitch. Mark Teahen blew an opportunity to get him home when he fouled back a grooved fastball, only to strike out on a slider in the dirt. A two-out walk to Juan Pierre brought Dunn to the plate, but Crow's balk made it a moot point. It's not the kind of balk that you'd want to settle a game with if it happened to your team, but rules is rules, I guess.

 

The crazy finish overshadowed yet another frustrating first six innings by the White Sox offense. Jeff Francis had an edge over Mark Buehrle in a battle of soft-tossing lefties, because White Sox hitters couldn't string together good at-bats when it counted. Ramon Castro's 423-foot solo shot aside, there was plenty of weak contact and opportunities spoiled.

There was no finer opportunity spoiled than in the fourth inning, when Dunn, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin strung together singles to start the inning. Alexei Ramirez killed the buzz by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, and Alex Rios couldn't pick him up. Hey, at least a run scored.

Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle turned in his usual effort -- seven innings, three runs -- but probably pitched better than his line indicated. The Royals just picked good times to punish his mistakes. Jeff Francoeur turned on a not-inside-enough cutter and ripped it into the seats behind the White Sox bullpen to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead in the first. Two innings later, Mitch Maier pulled a curve that was on the wrong side of the plate into the right field corner, and he would come around to score to make it a 3-0 game. Buehrle settled down afterward, but he was rewarded with his third consecutive no-decision for his efforts.

Record: 43-43 | Box score | Play-by-play

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