CHICAGO, IL - JULY 05: Kevin Youkilis #20 of the Chicago White Sox hits a solo home run in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers on July 5, 2012 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Texas Rangers 2-1. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Updated: August 7, 2012 6:38AM
‘If I were a fan of this team, I’d be very pumped,’’ White Sox captain Paul Konerko said.
And why not?
The Sox are in first place in the American League Central, eight games above .500 and have found new energy in the heat wave that the Midwest has borrowed from the Amazon.
It was 99 degrees, bright sun, high humidity and low breeze for the start of Thursday’s game at U.S. Cellular Field. The rubber gunk that separates slabs of pavement in the parking lot was starting to liquefy. Within an hour, the scoreboard flashed 101 degrees. A thermometer in the Sox’ dugout would soon hit 117.
So all the Sox did was cook up a 2-1 victory against the Rangers, sweeping possibly the best team in baseball in this three-game series.
Behind a superb starting pitching job by rookie Jose Quintana (4-1, 2.04 ERA in 10 games), the Sox looked like — dare we say it — the magical 2005 World Series Sox.
Of course, nobody in the clubhouse wanted to touch that one with a barge pole. And Konerko, one of the few active players who was on that 2005 team, certainly wasn’t having any of it.
Sitting in front of a rack of black bats and his custom-made Taylor acoustic guitar (for therapy and sing-alongs with Jake Peavy), Konerko said it was way too early to tell. And it would be foolish to compare the two squads no matter what.
Start thinking like that, he said, ‘‘and in 72 hours, we’ll be out of first place.’’
Maybe. But the Sox are winning in ways no one imagined before the season.
With an injury-laden pitching staff, general manager Ken Williams has pulled guys such as, well, Quintana, out of his hat. There are so many rookie pitchers with such names as Brian Omogrosso and Leyson Septimo that it’s a fair bet some position players couldn’t name their own teammates.
And then there’s Kevin Youkilis.
Acquiring the bald-domed, goateed fire plug from Boston two weeks ago was a GM move that so far has worked like gunpowder in a cannon.
The 33-year-old, three-time All-Star was deemed to be a little beyond his expiration date, but he has been an explosive offensive element for the Sox.
Holding his bat with his hands far apart, like someone with a grenade-launcher over his shoulder, Youkilis launched an opposite-field, tiebreaking home run in the sixth inning that was purposeful and timely. Indeed, the homer, his second with the Sox, helped end the game in a season-record 129 minutes.
In his 10 games with the Sox, Youkilis is batting .308 with 10 RBI, two walks and seven runs. He scored in the fourth inning on a ground out by Alexei Ramirez — thus being the only Sox player to touch home plate Thursday.
‘‘Hopefully the ball keeps jumping,’’ Youkilis said.
But he wouldn’t comment on the dominance of this Sox team, either. Stuff happens, he said. It’s a long season. Sometimes you get hits, sometimes you don’t.
‘‘It’s baseball,’’ he said.
Yes, and the Sox are playing it very well now. Youkilis seems to be winning game after game for them with big hits, but actually it’s everyone producing what’s needed. What Quintana has done after being thrust into a starter’s role because Philip Humber and John Danks have been hurt is astounding.
Addison Reed has saved 12 games in 13 chances.
And everyone is hitting either large or on time.
With Youkilis joined by Konerko, Alex Rios, A.J. Pierzynski and Adam ‘‘Hit It or Miss It’’ Dunn, the Sox have been outscoring foes by numbers that seem to give the pitchers the confidence to improve their own performances.
As Konerko said of Youkilis, ‘‘He’s not doing anything he hasn’t done before. It just adds to the mix.’’
Which it does. The addition of a veteran right-handed power bat to the team means the Sox don’t suffer when skilled left-handed pitchers, such as Rangers starter Matt Harrison, are on the mound. Left-handed-hitting All-Star Dunn can rest, and Youkilis can play first base or third base.
‘‘We can play with anybody,’’ manager Robin Ventura said after the sweep. This is obvious because the Rangers had not been swept by any team in over a year.
But playing it safe, saying nothing that changes their luck — nine victories in their last 12 games — is how the Sox are going to have it.
‘‘You can’t get too high,’’ Youkilis said, ‘‘and you can’t get too low.’’
Even if the burner is on full throttle.