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Disastrous 9th spoils Konerko’s two-run homer in White Sox loss

Reliever Sergio Santos can’t believe meltdown he’s suffering ninth inning Friday. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Reliever Sergio Santos can’t believe the meltdown he’s suffering in the ninth inning Friday. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:23AM

Closers learn the hard way that the game isn’t over until the last out.

For White Sox closer Sergio Santos, the lessons have been coming hard and mean in the last week.

On Friday night, he was one strike from putting the lid on the struggling Oakland Athletics, who were looking at their 11th straight defeat. The Sox were ready to celebrate a 5-3 victory that would have pulled them within 41/2 games of the division-leading Cleveland Indians and only a half-game behind the second-place Detroit Tigers.

But Santos couldn’t put away Josh Willingham, who walked. And he couldn’t retire the next five batters, including Scott Sizemore, whose double with the bases loaded finished Santos (2-3) and the Sox
in a crushing 7-5 loss at U.S.
Cellular Field.

‘‘This one hurts,’’ manager Ozzie Guillen admitted. ‘‘He just lost it. I was worried about [Hideki] Matsui at the plate in that inning. [Santos] just lost it. He was trying to be too aggressive.’’

The third out didn’t come until Lucas Harrell retired Coco Crisp. Santos had retired the first two batters quickly, but the eternity between those outs and the last is part of what Santos is learning about in this new role.

‘‘You have to learn with experience,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘He’s been throwing very well for us, but he has to keep his head up and keep fighting.’’

Santos has 11 saves, his last on Monday against the Seattle Mariners. But he has lost his last two outings since, giving up seven runs in 12/3 innings with a blown save.

‘‘I got out there, two outs and 0-2 [on Willingham] and just couldn’t put them away,’’ Santos said. ‘‘When I walked [Willingham], then had Matsui 0-2 and just couldn’t put him away . . . Inexcusable.’’

Matsui singled in a run.

‘‘I just didn’t do it,’’ Santos said. ‘‘I just flat-out didn’t get the job done. I don’t even know what to say.

‘‘It’s baseball. I wish I could go out and get the job done every time, but that’s not possible. I’ve got to be ready tomorrow for whenever they call me and whatever the situation.’’

Until the ninth inning, the Sox seemed in control behind 12 hits, another milestone home run by Paul Konerko in the first and a decent six innings from starter Edwin Jackson, who was seeking his first decision in his last three outings.

Konerko’s two-run homer off rookie starter Graham Godfrey was his 16th of the season and 381st of his career, tying him for 60th place with Albert Belle on the all-time list. It also marked his ninth straight game with an extra-base hit, setting a new franchise record.

The Sox added three more runs in the fifth, and the bullpen of Chris Sale, Brian Bruney and Matt Thornton held the Athletics to one run in the seventh and eighth.

‘‘It’s just one of those days,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘Everyone came in and did a great job. Serg just had one of those days, but we definitely have confidence every time he’s on the mound. . . . It’s a tough day for him, but he’s a strong guy. He’ll get over it.’’

Sox starters have a 2.73 ERA over the last 18 home games; the bullpen has a more bloated 5.52 in its last 21 games. The bullpen woes against the A’s in particular have been bloated this season, with the bullpen 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA and four blown saves.

‘‘There’s no doubt it hurts, but you have to be ready in 24 hours for another game,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘My question is how will be bounce back tomorrow. Today is over. It was a very weird game. I thought we got it down, and the bullpen did a good job all the way to the end. We had it set up very well. We had Santos throwing the ball good. He just failed, and that’s all you can say.

‘‘But I’m not going to lose confidence in him. Hopefully it makes him tougher.’’

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