Alex Rios won't get any official credit, so let's put it up at the top -- his thunderous takeout slide of Omar Infante on what should have been an inning-ending double play may go down as the most important play of the season.
Al Alburquerque entered in relief of Doug Fister with nobody out and runners on second and third in the fifth inning. He attacked Rios with sliders out of the zone, and while Rios wasn't picking them up, he was able to check his swings and draw a walk to load the bases.
That brought A.J. Pierzynski, who scalded a liner to right field -- directly at Brennan Boesch, who made an on-target throw to freeze Dunn at third. Dayan Viciedo followed with a chopper hit to Jhonny Peralta, who made a good feed to Infante for the second out.
Rios got to second in a hurry, certainly faster than Infante expected. Infante didn't make the turn as a guy expecting to be greeted with a slide. He tried making the throw with his front leg planted in front of the bag, giving Rios an easy target for contact. Rios uprooted Infante before he released the ball, and his throw gave Prince Fielder an awkward hop he could neither handle nor block, bouncing to the Detroit dugout. Dunn scored, Konerko scored, and the White Sox had a 5-4 lead.
A masterful bullpen performance orchestrated by Robin Ventura would make that lead hold up, and then some. Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, Brett Myers, Matt Thornton and Addison Reed retired the last 14 batters of the game to give the White Sox a three-game lead.
Jones, who improved to 8-0 on the season, earned the win with the afternoon's most important task. He relieved a rather ineffective Jose Quintana with runners on the corners and nobody out in the fifth inning (Fielder reached on a blown call by Mike Muchlinski on a chopper to the right side, allegedly beating Quintana to the bag; replay showed otherwise).
His day got off to an inauspicious start -- with an 0-2 count and Delmon Young unable to handle the high heat, the call was for a slider. It had too much of the plate, he sped up Young's bat, and Young delivered an RBI single to center, giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
Jones rebounded by getting Peralta to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play, and Brennan Boesch grounded out to short to limit the damage.
After the Sox gained the lead, Ventura stuck with Jones, and Jones rewarded his faith. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, blowing away Austin Jackson with 100-mph heat and celebrating with a double fist-pump and scream. He started the seventh by snaring a rocket off the bat of Omar Infante, which kept the bases clear for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera couldn't quite square him up, flying out to right.
With Fielder coming to the plate, Ventura took the ball from Jones and called for Fielder's nemesis, Donnie Veal. Veal sliders did not sit well with Fielder, who swung hard at one in the dirt, and couldn't check up two more swings.
Brett Myers worked a clean eighth, and then started with the ninth with the minimum cushion after Dewayne Wise committed the biggest brain fart of the season.
Wise was an early candidate for the game's hero when he shot a two-out single past Infante to score two runs and tie the game at 3 in the fourth inning. Standing on second base with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, he took a run off the board.
Dunn delivered what appeared to be an easy sac fly to deep left field. Avisail Garcia caught the ball, Gordon Beckham tagged, and the Sox were on their way to a 6-4 lead. But Wise took a really stupid chance to trying to tag up to third. Garcia, having no shot at home, threw to third immediately, and his throw caught Wise by 10 feet -- and more importantly, before Beckham touched the plate. Wise took an unnecessary risk and made the final out at third, and so Ventura and his bullpen would continue to have to walk the tightrope.
The law firm of Myers, Thornton and Reed took Wise off the hook. Myers got Quintin Berry to ground out to third to start the ninth. Jim Leyland called for Andy Dirks to hit for Gerald Laird, and Ventura countered with Thornton, who blew him away with 95-mph fastballs for the second out.
With lefty-killing Jackson coming to the plate, Ventura finally went to his much-maligned closer, Reed. After getting away with a hanging slider, Reed stuck with his heat. Jackson couldn't quite catch up to it, and he could only muster a flyout to medium right field to end an incredibly tense and thrilling three-hour, seven-minute affair.
- Beckham did what Infante couldn't do earlier, making a ninja-quick turn (with a sidestep) on a broken-bat grounder by Peralta for an unlikely 6-4-3 double play that thwarted a Tiger rally and kept them off the board in the second.
- The Sox had the bases loaded and fewer than two outs three times, and only came away with runs once. Fister worked over Kevin Youkilis and Dunn for strikeouts in the third inning.