PITTSBURGH—The White Sox's dominance over the National League Central nearly received a black eye Tuesday night.
But thanks to Jim Thome's roots at first base, the Sox persevered in a 4-2 interleague victory overt the Pirates that had some harrowing moments despite 15 Sox hits.
The Sox handed the Pirates their 12th consecutive loss behind the steady pitching of Mark Buehrle and Thome's timely hitting.
Thome had an RBI single in a first inning that saw the Sox score just twice despite five hits. But Thome's biggest hit came in the ninth, when he poked a pitch off left-hander John Grabow into left field to score Alex Cintron with an insurance run.
This marked only the second time Thome played first base this season because of National League rules that don't allow a designated hitter. He also chipped in on defense by picking third baseman Joe Crede's throw out of the dirt to retire Jason Bay for the final out of the fifth.
But Thome took more satisfaction in playing behind Buehrle, who scattered seven hits over seven innings and threw at his typical brisk pace.
"It was fun playing behind him, for sure," Thome said.
Before Thome's insurance RBI, the Sox hadn't scored since the second and had failed with runners in scoring position in the third, fifth and sixth.
Manager Ozzie Guillen credited the Pirates' pitching staff with the ability to pitch well with runners in scoring position, but a loss against the majors' coldest team wouldn't have sat well with Buehrle (9-4).
"I don't like facing teams like this," said Buehrle, who has won his last three starts. "It's like Kansas City. Every time you face them, you're expected to win and they're expected to lose. They're here for a reason. They have some young guys over there.
"I'd rather face a team like the Yankees or Red Sox than these guys because they have lost so many in a row they come out and try to win. It's almost like they're due for a win."
Craig Wilson's leadoff home run in the seventh off Buehrle closed the Pirates' deficit to 3-2, but Brandon McCarthy and Bobby Jenks retired the final six batters to give the Sox their 10th victory in their last 11 games. They remain two games behind Detroit in the AL Central and improved to 11-2 in interleague play.
Thome's appearance at first allowed Paul Konerko to rest for only the third time this season.
Guillen won't overlook the Pirates, who fell to 1-9 in interleague play.
"Even though those guys struggle, I like that team," Guillen said. "I think they have a couple of players who will be superstars if they're patient with them."
Guillen was mildly impressed with Salomon Torres, who made his 47th appearance but was charged with a run in the ninth. Torres is signed through 2008 and could be available to a team seeking a versatile reliever.
But Guillen couldn't wait to gloat while answering questions from Pirates coach Jeff Cox and reliever Roberto Hernandez about the strength of the pitching staffs for the Sox and Tigers.
"When you see [New York Mets' co-aces] Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, you can't wait to see them again after you face the AL Central," Guillen chuckled.