Twins trim wild-card lead; Sox face key series in Detroit

Tribune staff reporter

The throbbing Latin music that Johan Santana plays before each start could be heard Sunday down the hallway outside the White Sox's clubhouse.

And that was just one of several headaches suffered by the Sox in a 7-3 loss to Minnesota as they head into an important four-game series in Detroit.

In a game in which there was no margin for error, first baseman Paul Konerko's miscue paved the way for a four-run third inning—a migraine for the Sox.

The trouble started when Konerko couldn't handle a hard grounder hit by Jason Tyner. With Javier Vazquez walking Nick Punto before three consecutive hits, it added up to more than enough support for Santana (15-5) to improve to 13-0 in his last 20 starts at the Metrodome.

Despite Santana's mastery, the Sox (73-50) can consider themselves fortunate after losing for the fourth time in six games. The Sox open a four-game series at Detroit with a 51/2-game deficit in the AL Central and 39 games left, including seven against the Tigers.

"We're in the same position as the last time we played Detroit," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Last week when were in Chicago, everyone was excited. We're still there. We just got to go out there and play better and play the way we [can] and take our chances.

"Obviously, it's another do-or-die [series]. And it's a good thing because we're going to play within our division for a little while. And right now, we are where we are—first in the wild-card race and we're not too far away from Detroit. We've just got to keep believing in ourselves and keep pushing."

Despite the loss, the Sox were encouraged by the fact they managed six hits in the first four innings against Santana, who improved to 9-0 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 home starts.

Tadahito Iguchi's RBI double in the third was the only extra-base hit off Santana, who improved to 9-1 in his last 11 starts against the Sox. Vazquez, however, paid dearly for the four-run third as he fell to 1-4 with a 6.87 ERA in six career starts against the Twins.

"That was a big inning, and I couldn't stay away from the big inning," Vazquez said. "They've got a good lineup. You always look at the big guys like [Justin] Morneau, [Michael] Cuddyer and [Torii] Hunter, but they've got a couple guys over there doing a great job, like Punto and Tyner."

The Sox, who took advantage of two Minnesota errors in Saturday's 4-1 victory, didn't get many breaks Sunday. Twins pitchers went 88 at-bats in the series without allowing a walk until Jim Thome drew a free pass from reliever Juan Rincon in the eighth.

That set up the Sox's best chance to catch the Twins as Konerko's double, a sacrifice fly by Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede's RBI and an error by center fielder Hunter brought pinch-hitter Alex Cintron to the plate as the tying run.

But first baseman Morneau made an over-the-shoulder basket catch in foul territory to halt the rally.

Hunter, meanwhile, atoned for his mistake by ripping a two-run homer over the left-field fence off Neal Cotts to secure the win.

The Twins' rotation could be fortified when the Sox return to the Metrodome on Sept. 29.

A medical evaluation performed on the left arm of left-handed rookie phenom Francisco Liriano by team doctor Dan Buss revealed that he had no elbow pain and that his shoulder motion and strength had improved considerably.

Liriano, a 12-game winner who was named to the AL All-Star team, will start throwing on flat ground Tuesday and could rejoin the rotation by mid-September.

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