Rare sweep of Rangers, another gem by Jose Quintana buoy Sox’ belief system
Jose Quintana’s eight innings of two-hit pitching against the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers on Thursday afternoon confirmed not only that the rookie left-hander is the real deal, it also suggested the White Sox are the team to beat in the American League Central, after all.
With All-Star Chris Sale, former Cy Young winner and All-Star runner-up Jake Peavy and Quintana — who improved to 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA with the Sox’ 2-1 win that completed a three-game series sweep against Texas — the Sox have a formidable big three in their starting rotation that bodes well for protecting their place atop the division.
“Pitching wins. That’s just the bottom line,’’ Peavy said. “You saw it today. A guy went out there and almost single-handedly won that game.
“To have your pitching going, especially with what we’ve gone through, a kid nobody talked about in spring training to pitch like a No. 1 starter in the league. ... We get one or two guys back [Opening Day starter John Danks, perfect-game pitcher Philip Humber] it could even get better. We’re excited what’s going on but can’t take anything for granted.’’
Peavy pitches Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays as the Sox (45-37) open their final series before the All-Star break in first place for the 39th day this season. They’ve won nine of their last 12 during a hot streak that has coincided with the addition of Kevin Youkilis, whose homer against All-Star Matt Harrison (11-4) in the sixth broke a 1-1 tie.
“If I was a fan of the team I’d be very pumped about the stuff going on here,’’ Paul Konerko said. “Not only the attitude but getting so many answers here as we go along. It’s great considering where we were at the end of the year last year. There are a lot of great things happening here.’’
Quintana, a godsend when Danks went down with a sore shoulder, struck out a season-high eight while walking one. He gave up two singles.
“If you’re going to beat him you’re really going to have to string some hits together,’’ Konerko said. “And he doesn’t walk a lot of guys either, so you have to string some hits against him, and that’s tough to do. Yeah, he’s a great story.’’
The sweep was the Sox’ first against the Rangers since 2001 and marked the first time Texas got swept since the Yankees got them in June 2011, ending a streak of 52 series without getting swept. That was the longest active streak in the majors.
“It’s nice,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “But we feel we can play with anybody.’’
Quintana, who has pitched eight innings in three of his last four starts, didn’t allow a Ranger past first base after the fourth inning.
“They’re definitely one of the best lineups in baseball,’’ the Colombian-born Quintana said through a translator. “But I just go out there and do the same thing each time. I just try to do my best and throw my best pitches for strikes.’’
As is almost always the case, Quintana commanded both sides of the plate with all of his pitches.
“He has a great feel on the mound, he has good stuff,’’ Ventura said. “He’s more mature than you would think. With Johnny going down we’re lucky he has picked it up the way he has.’’
As a refreshing thunderstorm unexpectedly rolled through and watered down U.S. Cellular Field on a 100-degree day, Addison Reed relieved Quintana to start the ninth and retired the Rangers in order for his 12th save.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect series that seems more than significant in the White Sox scheme of things.
“They are the best team in baseball probably,’’ Peavy said. “We believe we have enough here to get it done and get in the playoffs and win 11 games. That’s a great feeling to have.’’