Before the White Sox performed their pregame work Monday in front of about 40,000 empty seats, manager Ozzie Guillen delivered a brief message to his players about maintaining the intensity that typified their emotional three-game sweep of the Cubs over the weekend.
The Sox responded in a manner that allowed Guillen to relax ... until the ninth inning.
Thanks to the home run resurgence of Jim Thome and Nick Swisher, the Sox held on for a 9-7 win over American League Central rival Cleveland for their fifth consecutive victory and their seventh straight win at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It was nice that we swung the bat well, but we have to step it up," Guillen said after he was forced to use Matt Thornton to close out the win after the Indians scored three times in the ninth.
A sellout crowd watched the Sox (47-35) carry out Guillen's message to expand their lead in the AL Central to 21/2 games over Minnesota while dropping Cleveland 101/2 games back.
As pleased as Guillen has been with the Sox's 17-10 record in June, the improvement of Thome and Swisher bodes well for the offense.
"If Jimmy and Swish can swing the bat the way they can do it, we're going to score a lot of runs because we got some guys on fire," Guillen said.
Thome hit his second home run in as many games, a three-run shot in the first. Thome has hit six of his 16 homers this season against Cleveland.
"I don't know what the other teams are thinking, but we're really relaxed, having good at-bats, and it's showing," Thome said.
Before hitting the home run, Thome was 1-for-23 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
In fact, part of Guillen's emphasis on the Sox's improvement in the second half stems from their ability to hit with runners in scoring position with two outs. The Sox entered Monday's game with a .198 batting average in those situations.
Swisher provided timely hitting by hitting a two-out grand slam in the third to give the Sox an 8-1 lead, and he added insurance by hitting a solo shot in the sixth to give the Sox a 9-4 cushion.
Swisher became the first player in Sox history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game twice in a season. It marked the seventh time Swisher had accomplished the feat.
Swisher's grand slam capped a five-run rally in which four consecutive batters reached base after two outs. Thome helped keep the rally alive by lining a double off the bottom of the center-field wall.
Swisher is batting .349 (15-for-43) in his last 13 games in raising his batting average from .219 to .239.
"I'm finally enjoying the ride," Swisher said. "There were a lot of things that happened to me early in the season. It never happened before. Through all those trials, it made be a better player and a stronger person."
Gavin Floyd won his team-leading ninth game while striking out a career-high 10 in six innings.
However, "you got an eight-run lead, I expect better out of my pitchers—not just him," Guillen said.
Joe Crede's 16th error in the ninth led to three runs.
"Although it got a little nerve-racking, we got the job done," Swisher said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun