There's nothing like defending your home turf on a playoff-type stage.
Just ask John Danks, Jim Thome and A.J. Pierzynski, who each stood tall and strong in vaulting the White Sox to the American League Central title Tuesday night in a pulsating 1-0 tiebreaker victory over Minnesota.
The victory was secured when Brian Anderson made a diving catch of Alexi Casilla's fly to short center to end the game. That set off a wild celebration before a sellout crowd of 40,354 at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's gratifying in so many ways," general manager Ken Williams said in a champagne-soaked clubhouse. "I'm so proud of the way Gavin Floyd and John Danks responded to the pressure, the situation. It's what the scouts saw in them, what I saw in them, what the coaches saw, and they delivered."
Thanks to three consecutive victories, the Sox advanced to the postseason for the second time in four years, where they will play East champion Tampa Bay in an AL Division Series. Javier Vazquez will oppose James Shields in the first game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Sox had to overcome a five-game losing streak last week, which included getting swept at Minnesota, by beating Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota on consecutive days.
"After we got swept up there, I thought we were dead," Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "But to beat three different teams in three days …"
Ace Mark Buehrle and Floyd, who won 17 games as the fifth starter, each won on three days' rest to set up Tuesday night's showdown with the Twins, who won 10 of 18 games against the Sox but had to travel to Chicago after the Sox won a coin flip to determine home-field edge.
"This makes it official to everyone," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "Let the record show that everyone stood up. All of our guys. Every one of them. Nobody picked them. Nobody had us. Nobody counted on Danks or Floyd."
Danks redeemed himself in heroic form for a 7.91 ERA against the Twins in four regular-season starts. Danks pitched eight innings of two-hit ball on three days' rest.
"Adrenaline carried me," Danks said.
Thome accounted for the offense with a home run off Nick Blackburn to lead off the seventh that traveled an estimated 461 feet.
"There's no better feeling," Thome said. "This is what you live for."
Thome's homer was the 541st of his storied career and landed over a screen below the signage board in center field.
"We talked on the bench [Monday], and I told Jim, '[Tuesday] is your day,' " hitting coach Greg Walker said. "I felt something really special."
Pierzynski, who began his career with Minnesota, prevented the Twins from scoring by blocking home plate and holding on to the ball after Michael Cuddyer crashed into him trying to score on a flyout to complete an inning-ending double play in the fifth. Ken Griffey Jr. made the strong throw home.
"I don't know how I caught that ball," Pierzynski said. "I thought the ball went flying. I didn't feel it in my glove because he hit me when the ball hit. What a feeling."
Bobby Jenks earned his 30th save, capped by Anderson's catch.
"It's unbelievable that play seals it and gets us to Tampa," Anderson said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun