Orlando Hernandez regained the winning feeling Tuesday night that had eluded him since July 29.
Whether Hernandez pitched impressively enough for the White Sox to decide on a five- or six-man rotation for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but Hernandez pitched well enough and the Sox held on for a 6-5 victory over Kansas City.
A crowd of 14,571the smallest at U.S. Cellular Field since May 4saw the Sox win their sixth consecutive game while maintaining their 9½-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central with 25 games left in the regular season.
But Sox eyes were focused more on the fortunes of Hernandez, who snapped a four-game losing streak.
Before coming to the Sox, Hernandez, 35, developed a reputation as a clutch postseason pitcher. He posted a 129-47 record for Cuba's national team before defecting in 1997 and he has a 9-3 postseason recordall with the New York Yankees.
But the Sox (86-51) are willing to scrutinize their starters in the final month to help dictate the shape of their rotation for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
"I'm not thinking about the playoffs," said Hernandez, who had a 5.63 ERA in August. "We haven't clinched it."
For the second time in as many starts, Hernandez started to fade after five innings. But unlike his 9-2 loss at Texas on Aug. 31, Hernandez earned some important outs in the sixth before getting pulled with one out in the seventh after John Buck's two-run homer.
Hernandez fell one out short of reaching the 120-inning mark for the season, which would earn him another $187,500 bonus. But he pitched deep enough for Guillen to employ five relievers in brief situations.
Hernandez looked exceptionally sharp from the outset, fooling Terrance Long and Mike Sweeney on curves for called third strikes to end the first. Hernandez stranded three runners in scoring position through the first five innings.
"He got behind a couple times, but he got the right people out," manager Ozzie Guillen said.
The Royals (44-92), who have lost all seven games against the Sox at U.S. Cellular this season and have dropped 11 of 13 in the season series, broke through in the sixth when Long hit a leadoff triple off the center field wall and scored when home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called a balk on Hernandez.
The Royals cut the lead to 6-5 when Damaso Marte allowed a two-run homer to Emil Brown in the eighth, but Cliff Politte and Dustin Hermanson got the final five outs.
"With the bullpen we have, we should have done a better job," Guillen said.
Hernandez was staked to a 5-0 lead after two innings. Paul Konerko hit a sacrifice fly in the first and an RBI single in the second. But Konerko's most timely contribution came in the seventh when he hit a hanging breaking pitch off left-hander Jeremy Affeldt for his third home run in as many games.
"Paulie's RBIs have been big for us," Guillen said. "He can carry this club."
Juan Uribe extended his hitting streak to six games with a homer off Jose Lima in the second.
The Sox blew a chance to add runs the sixth when Chris Widger was easily thrown out at home plate trying to score from second on Pablo Ozuna's single, and Scott Podsednik was caught stealing at second to end the inning.
WHITE SOX 6, ROYALS 5