TORONTO -- The starting pitcher throws well, the bullpen keeps the score close and the lineup gets a clutch run or two to pull ahead late. It's a simple recipe for winning, yet obviously getting all three parts of the game working at the same time is easier said than done, as the Chicago White Sox could attest in the early part of this season.
On Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, however, the Sox received two things -- quality pitching and key hits -- that have been in short supply for the club. Starter Dylan Axelrod gave the Sox six solid innings, limiting the Jays to two runs and keeping his team in the game despite a shaky final frame. After the bullpen did its characteristic superb job of keeping Toronto in check, the heart of the White Sox order delivered the go-ahead runs in the top of the ninth to put the club ahead for good in the 4-3 victory.
"Those are the big at-bats and we finally got the big hit," manager Robin Ventura said. "Again, it's a work in progress and you keep going at it over and over again. That's the kind of thing you're looking for."
Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko both drew walks to lead off the ninth, and after a Conor Gillaspie strikeout, Dayan Viciedo came to the plate. Viciedo had gone 0-for-3 against Jays starter Josh Johnson and fell behind 1-and-2 against reliever Steve Delabar. The slugger held steady against a close 95 mph fastball that just missed the strike zone and didn't chase a ball in the dirt, then blasted a 3-2 pitch into deep center field for an RBI double.
It was a much-needed big hit for Viciedo, who entered the game hitting just .184 for the season and was 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. After a three-hit performance on Monday, and Tuesday's clutch double, there are signs the Cuban outfielder was turning things around.
"I was very calm and was concentrating at swinging at good pitches," Viciedo said through an interpreter. "I had to get a good pitch to hit here. I felt calm during that at-bat, different than the other ones. I trust the work I've been doing in the cage. I'm getting better slowly and I'm feeling better slowly but definitely I've stayed positive."
The winning run was scored by Konerko, who came home on a Hector Gimenez sacrifice fly. It was one of three runs for Konerko, who also scored from third on a wild pitch in the second and hit a solo homer in the seventh. While Gimenez's fly ball went fairly deep into right field, it was still a challenge for the less-than-speedy team captain.
"I'm never really confident when it comes to me trying to outrun a ball," Konerko said. "I ran as fast as I could, the throw was off the line a little bit but even then it was still close. I don't have too much confidence in my speed and rightfully so ... but we were up already so [we'll] take a chance."
Axelrod was looking to rebound following a tough showing in his last start, when he gave up six runs in just 3⅔ innings against the Washington Nationals. The right-hander looked much sharper this time out, making only two costly mistakes that led to runs. Axelrod allowed a pair of two-out solo home runs, first to Colby Rasmus in the second inning and then another to J.P. Arencibia in the sixth.
That last homer looked as if it rattled Axelrod, as he proceeded to allow singles to the next two batters. With the Jays threatening to break the game open, however, Axelrod recovered to induce a forceout from Brett Lawrie to keep it a one-run deficit.
"My goal was just to have a quality start, keep us in it and we pulled it out at the end," Axelrod said. "I feel like I executed pretty well altogether and they got me for a couple of solo home runs. I missed spots barely on them and they made it count."
Axelrod's final line was two runs allowed, seven hits and a walk over six innings. From there the red-hot Sox bullpen took over, with Hector Santiago and Matt Lindstrom (who picked up the win) combining for two perfect innings. Both Santiago and Lindstrom have yet to allow a run in a combined 17⅓ innings this season.
"It starts with Ax going the distance that he did so you feel safe getting Hector in there in big spots even though we're down by one," Ventura said. "This is how we play so when they come in, it's always close and tight. They're the ones doing the job."
For all the good signs that came from the victory, it was still just one victory, and it might yet be too soon to proclaim the offensive struggles over given that the Sox managed just five hits in the game. That said, it was a positive result given how frustrated the White Sox have often been in several close results to begin the season.
"We're not clicking on all cylinders right now, not even close to it really," Konerko said. "That happens to every team during the year and it's our time right now so we've got to keep grinding and get out of it. There are some good signs, but we're not out of the woods yet. We have to keep working and get out of this road trip with a couple more wins and then go home and try to get hot."
Notes: The White Sox announced that right-hander Duente Heath has been optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. A corresponding roster move will be made before Wednesday's game. ... Addison Reed allowed his first run of the season in the ninth inning, elevating his ERA to 1.29. Reed still held on to record his fifth save of the year and his 11th save in a row dating to last season. ... This was Chicago's first win in a night game this season, improving their record to 1-6 under the lights.