ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Chicago White Sox are learning
how difficult it is to be a frontrunner.
The AL Central leaders beat Tampa Bay 5-2 Wednesday to end a
two-game losing streak against the last-place Devil Rays, who
became just the second team to take a series from the team with
baseball's best record."I tell my players: `You're going to be a contender. Every day
is going to be tougher and tougher," White Sox manager Ozzie
Guillen said. "When you're a first-place team ... it's not easy
mentally or physically."Starter Orlando Hernandez shrugged off being struck in the leg
by a ground ball and took a two-hitter into the seventh inning,
helping Chicago rebound after losing the first two games of the
series.Paul Konerko had a two-run double and Jermaine Dye and Aaron
Rowand also drove in runs in support of Hernandez (5-1), who left
after giving up a leadoff single and walking two batters to load
the bases with one out in the seventh."We needed this game," Hernandez said. "We got it."The 35-year-old right-hander allowed three hits and two runs,
one on Alex Gonzalez's sacrifice fly off reliever Cliff Politte.
Alex Sanchez drove in Tampa Bay's other run with a third-inning
double.Dustin Hermanson worked the last 1 2/3 innings for his sixth
save, extending his season-long streak of not allowing a run to 16 1/3 innings over 14 relief appearances. The win was the ninth in 11 games for Chicago."We're going to lose more games. It's how we bounce back,"
Hermanson said. "It was a winning road trip, and we've got to look
at it that way."The White Sox scored four runs in the fifth against Dewon
Brazelton (1-7), making the Tampa Bay right-hander the first
seven-game loser in the majors. Konerko's double was the big blow,
driving in two after Chicago had taken a 2-1 lead on a wild pitch.The victory improved Chicago's record to a major league-best
25-9, matching the 1951 White Sox for the second-best start in club
history.Hernandez was hit just above the right ankle by Chris
Singleton's grounder back to the mound in the fourth. He wasn't
hindered the rest of the way."Duque was outstanding," Guillen said. "It was pretty sore,
and he still went out there and did the job."The White Sox have led in all 34 of their games, a major league
record to begin a season. And for the third straight day, Tampa Bay
was undaunted by falling behind in the early innings.Sanchez's RBI double wiped out a 1-0 deficit in the third,
however the Devil Rays wasted three other scoring opportunities
against Hernandez and never fully recovered while going 0-for-8
with runners in scoring position.Brazelton, Tampa Bay's opening day starter, nearly lost his spot
in the rotation after a poor performance against Minnesota last
Friday. His 11th loss in his last 12 decisions will bring a
demotion to Triple-A Durham on Thursday."Everybody's disappointed, but it's probably the best thing,"
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "We'll see if we can get him
straightened out."Brazelton, who will be replaced in the rotation by Casey Fossum,
left the clubhouse without talking to reporters."Dewon needs to get his confidence back," pitching coach Chuck
Hernandez said. "He needs to get command of his fastball."Chicago took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Pablo Ozuna scored on
Brazelton's wild pitch. Konerko's two-run double made it 4-1 and
Dye finished the four-run inning with an RBI single that chased the
Tampa Bay right-hander.Brazelton, whose ERA is 6.43 allowed five runs and four hits in
4 2/3 innings. He walked six, giving him 29 in 42 innings, and
struck out two.Hernandez improved to 11-3 lifetime against Tampa Bay, including
5-0 at Tropicana Field. He walked four and struck out four,
allowing just four baserunners after Sanchez drove in the Devil
Rays' first run.
Dye was 1-for-10 in the series before his RBI single in the
fifth. ... Chicago's Scott Podsednik sat out because of an upset
stomach. DH Carl Everett did not play because of cramps in his left
leg. ... Gonzalez made his first start at shortstop for Tampa Bay.
He's made 21 starts at third base. ... The Devil Rays are 12-12 at
home, but just 1-10 on the road, where they'll play 22 of their
next 28 games.