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Beckham collects three hits, two RBIs in win

CHICAGO -- Sitting atop the American League Central on May 1 doesn't exactly mean playoff tickets should start being printed or White Sox players should begin to clear their October schedule.

In fact, Gordon Beckham could only offer up a "We are?" response when informed of the White Sox division leadership following Tuesday's 7-2 victory over the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field, coming after a 56-minute rain delay.

This series-opening win, marking the South Siders' first 3-0 start against the Indians since 2002, coupled with Detroit's home win over the Royals forged a three-way deadlock for AL Central control with the White Sox (12-11), Tigers (12-11) and Indians (11-10) all sitting just one game over .500.

Sure, it's still early. But if solid pitching and equally strong defense help define a postseason contender, then the White Sox should at the very least be competitive in this race for the division crown.

"If we do what we are capable of, we can be a really good team," said Beckham, after his first three-hit effort since Sept. 20 of last season helped spark the victory.

Beckham has been stellar in the field through the season's first month, once again producing Gold Glove-caliber defense. But manager Robin Ventura's patience was rewarded on Tuesday in regard to Beckham's capabilities with the bat.

With the game tied at 1 in the third following a 419-foot blast from A.J. Pierzynski in the second, Beckham opened the frame with a solo homer off Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2). Jimenez was erratic on the mound all night, allowing 14 baserunners over 4 2/3 innings and throwing only 54 of his 105 pitches for strikes.

And it was a 3-1 offering Beckham launched in the third for his first long ball. Ventura actually believed it was a 10-pitch, seventh-inning at-bat against Boston's Jon Lester on Saturday night, with runners on first and third and two outs, that showed Beckham's progress. It resulted in a groundout, but the correct approach and fight were there.

Regardless of the reason, the White Sox would like to think this night is the start of something big for Beckham.

"I hope," said Beckham, who raised his average to .190. "It was definitely a better game for me and it felt really good. I'm going to keep rolling with that for sure."

"Him and Albert Pujols both went homerless in April," said Pierzynski of Beckham. "But it was nice to see him get his first one out of the way. Hopefully it helps him relax. You want to see guys just do what they can do and not do too much and get over aggressive and out of their game."

For Beckham, that game means using the whole field. He followed that homer to left with two singles to right, including a run-scoring shot in the fifth.

This game really turned after the Beckham blast, and in a way, because of the Beckham blast. Alejandro De Aza hit the next pitch for what looked like a routine popup to shortstop, but neither shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera nor third baseman Jason Donald could see the ball through the post-homer fireworks smoke.

De Aza's popup fell for a hit, and the leadoff man's hustle turned it into the rare infield double. That miscue sparked three more runs, aided by a Cabrera error, two of Jimenez's six walks against just one strikeout and Dayan Viciedo's RBI single.

"Right when it went up, I knew I was in the general vicinity," said Donald, who pointed out there was a slight delay to let the smoke clear after Pierzynski's homer that didn't happen after Beckham. "But when it was up there, I didn't see that thing until basically it was right in front of me dropping.

"It's frustrating that that kind of kick-started that inning, really. I really have no real good explanation for it, other than I think that's the first time something like that's ever happened. And probably the last."

White Sox starter Chris Sale (3-1) needed just 88 pitches to get through six innings, throwing 62 strikes, before Ventura gave his bullpen work with the comfortable lead. He fanned three and walked one, giving up just one run in the second when Shelly Duncan doubled and Viciedo broke in on Jason Kipnis' line drive to left that cleared his head for another double.

For the season, Sale has struck out 29 and walked eight over 32 innings. The young southpaw tries to build off each outing and learn from each outing, but felt an extra level of comfort Tuesday from the early scoring outburst.

"I've said it before: It takes a tremendous amount of pressure off me when you go out and swing the bats the way we did today," Sale said. "It was like an explosion went off. It was fun to watch. It's easier to pitch in those games when you've got six, seven runs."

A slight scare took place in the ninth for the White Sox when an infield hit and two walks from closer Hector Santiago put the potential tying run on deck. Santiago escaped, and the White Sox found themselves in first place yet again, a spot they are glad to share on May 1 but hope to hold alone on Oct. 1.

"We've been playing the right way," Beckham said. "I don't know if it's our best baseball yet this year, but we've been doing the right things and that's produced a lot of wins for us so far and we've been just battling. It's a good start. I think we can be better."

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