CHICAGO -- Many White Sox followers see six American League teams within two games of three playoff spots and view the situation as gut-wrenching or maybe even nerve-wracking.
How about even a little heartbreaking following Saturday night's 9-7 loss to Oakland played in front of 26,686 at U.S. Cellular Field. White Sox reliever Philip Humber takes a different view of this tightly-packed fight, probably going down to the final days of the 2012 regular season.
"It's exciting, not nerve-wracking," Humber said. "We are going out there trying to win every night, no matter where we are at in the standings or anything like that.
"This is a tough league. There are no breaks. There's a bunch of teams right there fighting for spots and especially this year with the extra playoff team. So, we are all trying to grind it out and put ourselves in a good position."
Humber put the White Sox (61-51) in great position Saturday night, hurling three-plus innings of hitless relief after starter Francisco Liriano lasted just 3 1/3 innings and 76 pitches. In shutting down the A's (61-52) with the help of Jesse Crain, the White Sox were able to rally from a 6-2 deficit in the fourth and claim a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the seventh when A.J. Pierzynski singled home Kevin Youkilis.
That lead did not hold up behind Matt Thornton (4-8) and Brett Myers in the eighth and ninth. In fact, the one-run advantage lasted two batters into the eighth when Jonny Gomes launched a first-pitch slider into the left field stands for his 13th homer.
Thornton explained that he had gone all fastballs against Gomes in their previous encounter, but was on the same page with catcher Tyler Flowers to start the at-bat with an offspeed offering. That thought process didn't pay dividends.
"We've been playing well and I didn't do my job tonight, so it's really frustrating," Thornton said. "One-run lead and I thought it was a good idea to throw him a breaking ball. He jumped all over it."
"If I got a slider from him, I knew it was going to be early in the count," said Gomes of the game-tying blast. "So I was just trying to put the ball in play the first few pitches of the at-bat."
As Thornton pointed out, he gave up two runs in the eighth, made one mistake and nobody was on base when Gomes connected. The rest of the inning was the sort of bad luck that has plagued the southpaw all season.
Yoenis Cespedes beat out a two-out grounder to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which could have been ruled an error when Ramirez's throw pulled first baseman Adam Dunn of the bag. Chris Carter singled to right on a hit-and-run to put runners at the corners, with the ball barely dropping in over Gordon Beckham, who had moved to cover second.
"On the hit to Carter, that was pretty special," said Thornton, shaking his head. "I haven't seen that one happen too often."
"They don't give up. They battle," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of the A's. "They're in the position they're in because they do the same stuff we do. Just didn't happen tonight."
Myers replaced Thornton, and Brandon Inge's first-pitch single gave the A's the advantage. All of this relief work was aimed at cleaning up Liriano's early mess after he struck out the first four A's hitters he faced, including the first three on just 11 pitches, and five in the first two innings.
Those strikeouts would represent his total for the night. In the third, Liriano allowed five runs on four hits and needed 38 pitches to get through the inning. Carter singled home two runs and Derek Norris doubled home two more, as Liriano lost his location in the blink of an eye.
"I was trying to do too much in the third inning and missing my spot almost every pitch," said Liriano, who allowed six runs on seven hits and three walks. "I was getting behind in the count. It's tough pitching when you get behind in the count most of the time."
Home runs from Youkilis in the fifth off Oakland starter Travis Blackley and then Flowers in the sixth with two outs off of Jordan Norberto brought the White Sox even. Flowers started at catcher with Pierzynski moving to designated hitter and Dunn to first base because of Paul Konerko's absence with a concussion, and missed the cycle by a triple.
Losing to Oakland could have been more detrimental for the South Siders after Grant Balfour (eighth save) hit Youkilis in the left wrist/forearm area to start the ninth. Youkilis stayed in the game with bruising and a welt in that area postgame but no fracture.
Texas gave the White Sox a little something to smile about with a 2-1, walk-off victory over the Tigers, keeping the White Sox lead in the American League Central at one game. But those teams along with Baltimore, Oakland, the Angels and the Rays all are bunched together, trying to avoid potential momentum-changing setbacks such as the one suffered by the White Sox on Saturday.
"Our team is really good about turning the page and getting ready for the next day," Humber said. "I look for us to come out and play well tomorrow."
"So, the frustration level is pretty high but what are you going to do?" Thornton said. "You come back the next day and we'll be ready to go. Take it one day at a time and here we go again."