KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Now that the Chicago White Sox have dispatched of the last-place Kansas City Royals, the AL Central leaders can turn their attention to a showdown with the second place Minnesota Twins.
John Danks and two relievers combined on a four-hitter and Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer as the AL Central-leading White Sox beat the Royals 3-0 on Sunday. The White Sox have won 12 of 18 against the Royals this season.
The victory enabled the White Sox to remain 2 1/2 games in front of the Twins, who won 4-1 at Tampa Bay. The White Sox open a three-game series Tuesday at Minnesota that will likely determine the American League Central crown.
"It's a big series," Konerko said. "Obviously, it's the team that's chasing you. There are six games left to go in the season. It's pretty simple at this point. You don't need to speculate about a lot. It is head to head. If we have a bad series, I don't think it is the end of anything. But if we have a good one, that should do it I would think. So that's our goal."
The White Sox have been in first place for 144 days, including all but nine since May 17.
"It is like you're fighting for 12 rounds and you know you're winning, but a lucky punch gets you last round and you're done and you lose the title," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of the Twins seasons. "That's that way I feel right now.
"The only thing we have left and the only thing that can complement that is to win [the division]. If not, it will be a tough summer with a bad ending. It can be a tough summer with a lot of happiness with smiling faces and proud. The only way we can do that is win. This was a huge game today. Now we're going into Minnesota up 2 1/2, so we have a little cushion."
Danks, who was 0-3 with two no-decisions in his previous five starts, held the Royals to four hits and allowed only one runner past second base. Danks (11-8), who retired 11 in a row during one stretch, left after seven-plus innings, walking one and striking out three, picking up his first victory since Aug. 16.
"We are where we are for a reason," Danks said. "We know it's a big series and we know there is a lot at stake. We want to have as much leeway as we can. I noticed the Twins won today, so I knew we had to win to stay where we were."
Danks walked David DeJesus and gave up and a two-out single to Ryan Shealy in the first, but struck out Mark Teahen to end the threat. In the second, he hit John Buck with a pitch. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, but was stranded there. Alex Gordon doubled with one out in the seventh and advanced to third on a ground out, but failed to score.
Danks, who was 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA last season, has not allowed a run and only eight hits in 13 innings in his past two starts.
The confidence factor and comfortable level is night and day," Danks said between 2007 and 2008. "The stuff feels the same, but just the way I feel on the mound is night and day."
"I got down 0-and-2 and was just battling, not trying to do too much and definitely trying not to strikeout," Konerko said. "Duckworth's breaking ball was really good, a sharp little slider, so I just tried to stay back and let the ball get deep to me as much as I could cause he got me with that pitch on my second at-bat. He tried to throw a sinker in. I hit it good, but hit it high and got in the jet stream up there. The wind was blowing out good, which helped out."
The White Sox scored their other run in the first with singles by Dewayne Wise and Jermaine Dye putting runners on the corners. Thome's sacrifice fly, which shortstop Mike Aviles caught in shallow left with his back to the plate, was enough to get Wise home.
Kansas City chased Danks when Alberto Callaspo led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single that extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games. Matt Thornton got the next two outs, while Bobby Jenks retired the final four batters for his 29th save in 32 opportunities.
Dye went 2-for-4 for his 45th multihit game. The Royals finished 38-43 at Kauffman Stadium. They have not had a winning home record since 2000. ... The shutout was the ninth by the White Sox pitching staff, while the Royals were shutout for the 12th time, which is tied with Seattle for most in the American League.