Sox reliever Sergio Santos pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three to pick up the victory. | kevin p. casey~Ap
Updated: August 25, 2011 12:29AM
SEATTLE — The White Sox put it all together Sunday to win their first series in a month.
A strong eight innings by Mark Buehrle, a 5-for-5 day from Paul Konerko, a clutch double by Alexei Ramirez in the 10th inning and — last but certainly not least — a shutdown relief performance by Sergio Santos.
This mess the Sox (13-22) got themselves into began when the bullpen unraveled in early April, leaving them with four punch-in-the-gut losses on the front end of a horrendous run of 18 losses in 22 games. The 5-2 victory against the Seattle Mariners, the Sox’ second consecutive win, was the first step in the cleanup process and provided a glimmer of hope in the clubhouse that maybe, just maybe, they gradually can chip their way back to the .500 mark.
It won’t happen without a closer. They seem to have one in Santos, whether manager Ozzie Guillen makes it official or not and puts the tag on the second-year right-hander who has not allowed a run — in the regular season or spring training —since last September.
“Nah, that’s just a title,’’ Santos said when asked if he needs to be told he’s the closer. “To me, it’s
insignificant. If we’re winning and I’m throwing and getting the last three outs, that’s all I need.’’
Commanding three pitches and working ahead in the count, Santos entered in the ninth with the score 2-2. He walked Jack Cust, the only Mariner to reach base against him, but struck out two.
“As soon as I started walking down the steps, [Guillen] said, ‘All right, whether we stay the same or take the lead, you’re going back out, so get out there, get aggressive and get ’em.’ ’’
After the Sox scored three in the 10th against Brandon League (0-1), Santos (1-0) essentially saved his own win by pitching a perfect 10th. He struck out three overall and did not let a ball out of the infield.
“We are going to give him a shot to close again,’’ Guillen said. “But I cannot name him or give him the title.
“But it’s obvious. He’s there every ninth inning when we got the lead. I’m not going to say he’s going to be the guy. I bring him today with the game tied. Most closers wait for the save opportunity. I can’t have the luxury to do that. I have to put the best guy out there, give us another chance to give us at-bats.’’
Buehrle, who had a consecutive scoreless innings streak snapped at 17, took a no-decision with something of a vintage Buehrle performance: eight innings, nine hits, no walks, three strikeouts. In the sixth consecutive strong start by a Sox pitcher, Buehrle threw 99 pitches, 66 for strikes, and got better as he went along. He retired 11 of the last 13 batters he faced.
“I don’t think we can play as bad as we have much longer,’’ Buehrle said. “It’s got to turn around. We’ve got to win series, and hopefully everything will start to turn around.’’
Matt Thornton has shown signs of turning a corner, and Jesse Crain has been sharp alongside Santos in the bullpen.
“Everyone has been throwing well,’’ Buehrle said. “We need to get [left-handed reliever Chris] Sale back on track. But as far as the bullpen goes, we’re fine.”
The Sox got two runs on catcher Ramon Castro’s two-out single to left in the fourth when third-base coach Jeff Cox challenged Milton Bradley’s arm and waved the slow-footed Konerko home. Bradley’s off-target throw allowed him to score, and when the ball skipped away from catcher Miguel Olivo, Alex Rios gambled and outran Olivo to the plate. The Sox led 2-0.
In the 10th, Ramirez broke a 2-2 tie with an RBI double, and Adam Dunn doubled him home. Rios, 6-for-9 in the last two games, singled in Dunn.
“Baseball is a team game, so we suffer the losses and enjoy the wins together,’’ Ramirez said. “My hit wasn’t any more important than a lot of the plays in the game. If this changes the fortunes of the team and we win more, that makes me happy.’’