Shin-Soo Choo ... another home run.
The Indians are guaranteed that they won't finish under .500 this season. Two months ago, when they were 16 games under the break-even point, it seemed impossible. A 12-6 win in Chicago on Saturday night gave Cleveland an 81-80 record with one game left against the wallowing White Sox. The Tribe would love to complete a three-game series sweep and keep the Chisox from going to the playoffs.
They'll have to do it without ace Cliff Lee (22-3, 2.54 ERA), who will miss his final start of the season because of a neck injury. Instead, right-hander Bryan Bullington (0-1, 5.59 ERA).
"If Cliff's neck hurts, it could change his delivery," Indians manager Eric Wedge told reporters before beating the White Sox on Saturday night. "There's no way I'm going to take that chance."
If the Indians keep hitting as they have in the first two games of the series, it is the White Sox who should be plenty worried. Chicago remains a half game behind the Minnesota Twins, who have problems of their own. Minnesota has lost twice in a row to the Kansas City Royals. Should the Twins and Indians both win on Sunday, Minnesota will be the AL Central champions. Any other scenario (a White Sox win, even if Minnesota does too -- or a Twins loss even if the Tribe wins) means Chicago will have to make up a rained-out game Monday against the Detroit Tigers. And if, after that game, the White Sox and Twins are tied, then the clubs will meet in a one-game playoff Tuesday in Chicago to decide the division winner.
Both clubs are probably happy the Indians won't be around because the Wahoos are walloping the ball. They got 14 more hits Saturday -- two apiece by Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Zach Jackson (2-3, 5.55 ERA) pitched seven strong innings, leaving with an 8-2 lead. Brendan Donnelly (8.56 ERA), Rafael Perez (3.54 ERA) and Jensen Lewis (3.82 ERA) combined to give up four eighth-inning runs.
But the Indians came back with four more in the ninth off Chicago's beleaguered bullpen.
If the White Sox's starter on Sunday, Mark Buehrle, isn't able to give Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen some innings, the Indians very well could score in double figures for the third straight game. Buehrle (14-12, 3.87 ERA) will be pitching on three day's rest.
Choo (.309) got Cleveland going by hitting his 14th homer in the first inning off Javier Vasquez. Jermaine Dye countered with his 34th of the year in the bottom half to tie it, 1-1.
Those were the only hits by either team until the Indians got six hits and six runs in the fifth. Cabrera (.260) had a three-run double, Jamey Carroll (.274) doubled home two more, and Choo added an RBI single for a 7-1 lead.
Paul Konerko's 20th homer got Chicago within 7-2 in the seventh, but Martinez (.278) and Garko (.271) had back-to-back doubles in the eighth to restore Cleveland's six-run lead.
After the White Sox got within 8-6, helped by a two-run homer by Konerko, the Tribe put together five more hits and four runs in the ninth. Peralta (.273) and Martinez had RBI singles and Franklin Gutierrez (.245), who had been 0-for-15 as a pinch-hitter, lined a two-run single batting for David Dellucci.
"Jackson stepped up," Wedge said. "He trusted his stuff and threw strikes. He nibbled a few times, but for the most part he went right at them. He's a guy trying to make an impression, and he has."
Chicago has lost five in a row and eight of its last 10. The Indians have won nine of their last 12.
"I'm as proud of this club as I have been of any club I've had, considering the adversity we've had," Wedge said. "They've really worked hard to get better."
They will look to cap their second-half resurgence Sunday against Buehrle, who is 10-3 at home this year, but 0-1 with a 9.22 ERA in three starts against Cleveland in 2008. the left-hander was 0-1 with a 17.22 in two starts at Progressive Field and got a no-decision in his lone start against the Tribe in Chicago.