The 16-year veteran has been around the game long enough to know when a team is on the verge of a potential letdown.
And the White Sox appeared to possibly be on the cusp of one after outscoring the then first-place Cleveland Indians 35-16 in a three-game sweep over the weekend. Konerko realized that sort of offensive production is rarely sustainable.
That part was proven true over the White Sox’s last three games against the Rays. They broke out for seven runs in the second game of the series, but they scored two runs in the series opener and four runs in the finale. All together, their three-game series run total didn’t match the 14 runs the White Sox put up against the Indians on Saturday.
Still, despite the expected diminished offensive production, the White Sox didn’t lose a beat, and they found ways to sweep the Rays, which might be the most telling sign they’re a legit American League Central contender.
“We had a weekend where everything went right,” Konerko told reporters after Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Rays. “We had a bunch of hits, a bunch of runs. Usually after something like that, you go 180 degrees the other way. Although we didn’t stay quite as hot as a team, it was nice to get the wins after we cooled off a bit.”
Individual pieces, such as Konerko’s torrid bat, may have cooled a bit, but the White Sox as a team are rolling unlike any team in baseball right now. They’ve won eight games in a row and 12 of their last 13. From May 7 to May 30, they’ve gone from four games under .500 to seven games over, and they’re now leading the Indians by 1 ½ games in the Central.
The way the White Sox were able to keep their winning ways going against the Rays came in various forms.
On Monday, starting pitcher Chris Sale did the major lifting. He struck out a career-high 15 batters and allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings. Adam Dunn provided all of the White Sox’s offense with a two-run home run, and relievers Jesse Crain and Addison Reed pitched the final 1 2/3 innings to secure a 2-1 win.
On Tuesday, the White Sox rallied from a 2-1 deficit with five runs in the sixth inning. The team’s 6-7-8-9 hitters provided four of the RBIs. Philip Humber also had his best outing since throwing a perfect game on April 21. He allowed five hits and two runs in seven innings. The bullpen again shut the door for the final two innings.
Finally on Wednesday, the White Sox were dealt some early adversity when starting pitcher Jose Quintana and manager Robin Ventura were ejected in the fourth inning after Quintana threw behind the Rays cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist. Bench coach Mark Parent and four relievers came through in their place, and the White Sox prevailed 4-3.
To add an emotional game, in the ninth inning with runners on first and second base, Reed got back-to-back hitters to pop out to shortstop Alexei Ramirez to end the game. As the players hi-fived and smiled after the final out, it was easy to see it was a game they really enjoyed winning.
“It was awesome,” Reed said. “Any time I get out there in the ninth inning, I definitely want to shut it down. But today to just go for the sweep and everything that kind of happened in today’s game, I wanted it a little bit more than the other ones. We pulled it off, and it feels great.”
With a day off on Thursday, the White Sox will enter June in first place. That can’t be a bad feeling either.