Second place looks about right

CHICAGO -- This isn't an obituary, because you don't publish those when the subject is still technically alive.

No, this is more like the call you make to family and friends when an elderly relative is sick. "You might want to come say goodbye. They don't have long."

The end is near and everyone knows it. After the Chicago White Sox's eighth loss in nine games, 3-2 to Tampa Bay on Thursday, their postgame clubhouse felt defeated and funereal. For a team that has spent 117 days in first place, this feels like a second-place team.

First-place teams don't lose two of three to the Cleveland Indians. First-place teams don't score their only runs in a must-win game on a hit-by-pitch and a double play, all but wasting prime scoring situations.

"You couldn't go out and try to play this many games in a row that look the same," Paul Konerko said. "Nothing much to say. The effort's there, everybody is grinding and giving everything they got. It's just not happening."

The 2012 Chicago White Sox. They died of "just not happening."

OK, the Sox aren't quite toe-tagged with six games to go, but they trail the Detroit Tigers by two in the AL Central, their biggest deficit since falling 2½ games back on May 25. Despite all the talk of being fighters, the Sox are playing tired, bad baseball at the worst possible time.

"We're professionals," A.J. Pierzynski said. "We want to do well. We want to win games and we want to do things that are good. And when you don't, sometimes you just try too hard. It seems like our whole team now is trying too hard and that's the way it goes."

This isn't new.

Since 2006, the Sox's record in the last month (and the few days of October) is 91-105. This season, the Sox are 10-15 in September. New manager, old manager, same bad baseball.

Despite loading the bases twice with no outs, the Sox scored their runs in those situations on a hit-by-pitch (Dayan Viciedo) and a double-play grounder (Konerko).

Chicago was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, a symptom of the team's fatal illness. Over the last 10 games, the Sox are 9-for-73 (.123) in that situation. This was a team that led baseball in that statistic earlier this month. You live by the RISP, you die by the RISP.

"We're only two games out with a little of the season left because we've been good all year at that," Konerko said. "Our trademark has been that we've been good all year at the small things that you do on a baseball field. Right now, it's just not happening."

Just not happening. A painful, simple malady.

Before the game, Adam Dunn summed up the sorry state of the team.

"It seems like each night we get some pretty good pitching and we can't hit water if we fell out of a boat, or vice versa," he said.

It wasn't the pitching Thursday.

"You don't execute, you're not going to win. It's that simple," a smoldering Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "We had opportunities, even late, and we didn't do the fundamental things to win the game. It's been for a little while now, we just can't do those little things that you need to win and be successful."

At least Jake Peavy went out every bit the figurative bulldog, giving up two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings. Peavy threw 117 pitches, striking out six and walking one.

He left with the game tied 2-2. Brett Myers, one of Kenny Williams' trade acquisitions, gave up the winning homer to Evan Longoria in the ninth. With the winning run at second, Dunn struck out to end the game.

In the bottom of the eighth, with pinch runner Jordan Danks on first, pinch hitter Dewayne Wise failed to get a bunt down before striking out. Then on Alexei Ramirez's fly ball, Danks forgot to retag second before going back to first and was promptly doubled up.

"Overall, it's just the small things that add up over the course of time," Ventura said.

It was very likely Peavy's last start at the Cell. Unless they discover an oil well in left field, the Sox won't be picking up Peavy's $22 million extension for 2013. Peavy could re-sign at a lower price. But if he goes, several other Sox veterans will join him on the way out.

All year long, Peavy (11-12, 3.37 ERA) has been victimized by a lack of run support.

"There ain't nobody to blame," he said. "I think everybody in here will take accountability for the way we've played. We had it right there in front of us a lot tonight and throughout the last week and a half, just hadn't been able to capitalize on either side of the ball.

"We've tried to pitch well enough to give us a chance and just hadn't been able to do that quite enough, and obviously offensively it's been frustrating here for the last little bit. We're still gonna grind it out. We still have a decent shot here. We know we just gotta win [Friday] and worry about winning the next day and trying to win out these next six."

When you hear the word "still," you know that they know what you know. Mentally, these guys are already in tree stands.

I hate to say that, because the Tigers have proved they are perfectly willing to cede the division, but it looks as if both teams are finding their true destinations at just the right time.

Before the game, I thought it was kind of funny that the Indians fired manager Manny Acta after his team took two of three from the Sox. After all, part of the reason he got canned was his team had tuned him out and stopped caring. And that group still took two of three from a team that was in first place in late September.

That says a lot about the way the White Sox are playing. So do the anemic crowds, which even for the soft-drawing Sox, are pretty bad. The announced crowd of 18,630 was less than what the Rays average (19,419), and they're the worst draw in baseball.

After their win Thursday, the Rays' clubhouse was joyful. You could hear the players clapping in rhythm, hooting and hollering like teenagers. Those are the sounds of a team playing for something in September.

The only yelling in the quiet White Sox clubhouse was Pierzynski watching the last play of the Thursday night NFL game as he talked to reporters.

Those are the sounds of a dead team walking in September.