for this game

Thome powers White Sox into postseason

Oct 1, 2008 - 4:19 AM By Gene Chamberlain PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

CHICAGO (Ticker) -- The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins had been face-to-face, waiting for one to flinch for half the season. So, appropriately enough, they stood locked in a scoreless tie Tuesday in the bottom of the seventh inning of a one-game playoff for the American League Central Division title.

Then, thanks to Jim Thome and John Danks, the White Sox joined their crosstown rivals in October for first time in 102 years by pulling off a 1-0 victory over the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.

Thome snapped the scoreless tie with a mammoth homer off Twins starter Nick Blackburn, while Danks and reliever Bobby Jenks made it stand up for the division title.

"This is what you live for," Thome said amid spraying champagne in Chicago's locker room. "You battle so hard. This is why you work so hard and battle all summer. Unbelievable."

Danks (12-9) hurled eight dominant innings for Chicago, which will face the Tampa Bay Rays in Game One of the best-of-five AL Division Series on Thursday. The lefthander allowed just two hits while striking out four and walking three.

Jenks tossed a perfect ninth for his 30th save.

"We bounce back every time we are against a wall," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "After we got beat by Cleveland (Saturday), I said this team is going to need one win to start a roll, and we did."

Chicago, which earned a berth in the postseason for the first time since winning the 2005 World Series, won with its back against the wall Sunday over Cleveland and again in a make-up game against Detroit on Monday for the right to play in this one.

With Tuesday's triumph, it marks the first time since 1906 both the White Sox and Chicago Cubs are in the postseason.

"Blackburn was pitching a (heck) of game," Danks said. "He did pitch a great game, and I knew whoever made the first mistake was going to lose. Both of us were going strong. Thome was clutch."

Blackburn (11-11) allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings while striking out three and walking three.

"Danks had a 93-94 mile-per-hour fastball and he mixed his pitches well," Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau said. "He was one pitch better than (Blackburn)."

In breaking up the pitchers' duel, Thome slammed a towering blast to center field off Blackburn that landed on the concourse well beyond the wall - an estimated 461 feet.

"I knew I hit it pretty good," said Thome, a Peoria, Illinois, native who grew up a fan of the Cubs. "I got a pitch to hit. It worked out great. It felt really good.

"I just hadn't been getting a lot of hits. But he was pitching very well, too. I was lucky I got a pitch out over the plate to hit. That's baseball. That's why you keep battling."

Blackburn, who surrendered nine runs in nine innings at U.S. Cellular Field during two regular-season losses, had allowed just two hits until Thome's home run.

"I made one mistake, and it ended up out of the park, but that is how my season has gone," Blackburn said. "A lot of ups and downs."

Jose Mijares relieved Blackburn following a one-out double by Ken Griffey Jr. and an intentional walk to Alexei Ramirez in the seventh. Mijares escaped the jam by getting A.J. Pierzynski to ground to first and Juan Uribe to fly out to left.

Pitching on three days' rest after being shelled by the Indians on September 26, Danks faced more than three hitters in an inning just twice, benefiting from three double plays - this against the Twins, who had tagged him with a 7.91 ERA in four previous appearances this season.

"I think the Twins have been, I won't say the only team because (there have) been some other teams, but I guess they've been the team I have had the most difficulty with, I guess you could say," said Danks, who threw 103 pitches.

Danks was so dominant he had AL batting champion Joe Mauer trying to bunt for a hit to lead off the seventh.

The closest anyone came to scoring before Thome's home run was when Michael Cuddyer led off the fifth inning with a double that rolled to the wall in left for the first hit off Danks. Cuddyer advanced to third when the next batter, Delmon Young, flew out to Griffey in center.

But Griffey then threw out Cuddyer after catching Brendan Harris' fly ball. Pierzynski reached to his left for the one-hop throw and managed to keep the ball in his mitt as he was plowed into by Cuddyer for the inning-ending double play.

"I knew if it was a good throw, that the only chance I would have was to run him over," Cuddyer said.

A former member of the Twins, Pierzynski then got up and showed the ball to Cuddyer.

"You've got to send that guy, you've got to take a chance," Pierzynski said. "It took a perfect throw and a perfect play, and Cuddyer can run. I give him credit. He hit me good. It was a clean play. I still don't know how I caught the ball. I have no idea.

"I really didn't think I did. I couldn't feel it in my glove, so when I turned I thought it went flying because I had a play like that in the ALCS in 2002, and the ball went flying off the wall."

Jenks, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, took the loss when the Twins completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox to take a one-half game lead in the division on September 25.

In this one, he struck out pinch hitter Jason Kubel, got Denard Span on a bouncer to first baseman Nick Swisher and got help from center fielder Brian Anderson, who made a diving catch on Alexi Casilla's shallow fly to right-center.

It ended a good run for Minnesota, which finished its surprising season on a sour note. The Twins were not expected to be a contender after parting ways with center fielder Torii Hunter and ace Johan Santana last winter.

"It came down to just what we thought it would, two very equal baseball teams getting after each other," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's very frustrating in this clubhouse. I know what the expectations were for us, but our expectations were to get to the World Series like they are every year.

"These guys battled their tails off. So, it's real tough right now, and we'll just have to live with it. This was a great experience for a lot of our young players."

Tuesday's contest was the fourth one-game playoff in AL history, with the most recent seeing the Seattle Mariners capture the AL West title with a 9-1 triumph over the California Angels in 1995. The Colorado Rockies posted a 9-8 victory over the San Diego Padres in 13 innings in a National League tiebreaker last season.