Just as expected, the White Sox-Pirates interleague series featured some excellent pitching. The surprise was it came from the White Sox, the majors' worst staff nearly all season.
Frank Thomas, whose season has been nearly as disappointing as Chicago's pitching, drove in two runs and the White Sox jumped out to a big first inning for the second night in a row to hold off Pittsburgh 5-4 Tuesday night.
The White Sox, swept in a three-game series in Pittsburgh last season when star Albert Belle was paid more than the entire Pirates' team, swept a two-game series this time.
"We were able to get it going in the first inning of both games, and that makes a big difference," said Thomas, who has only 12 homers. "It makes it easier for your pitcher. I'm glad I was able to drive in a couple. It's been a rough season for me."
It was a rough series for the Pirates' two best starters, Francisco Cordova and Jason Schmidt, both of whom were roughed up in the first inning.
The White Sox scored four runs in the first of Monday's 5-4 win against Cordova and three runs Tuesday against Schmidt (8-4), who had allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his previous nine starts.
Still, the White Sox threatened for the second night in a row to squander a big lead, but Mike Sirotka (8-7) settled down after a three-run fourth to retire 13 in a row. He struck out six four in succession at one point and walked two in eight-plus innings.
"He's been that way all year," manager Jerry Manuel said. "If he gets a lead, he steps it up a notch."
Matt Karchner came on after Aramis Ramirez led off the ninth with a single to get his 10th save and second in as many nights.
The White Sox's 5.70 ERA is by far the worst in the majors, yet they shut out Pittsburgh over the final six innings Monday and the final five innings Tuesday.
The left-handed Sirotka, who had lost three of four and five of seven, got a big lift when RBI singles by Thomas and Magglio Ordonez and Albert Belle's run-scoring ground out made it 3-0 before Schmidt got his second out.
Schmidt felt out of sync, in part because a long rain delay limited him to four innings in his previous start June 18 in Milwaukee.
"Mentally, I just wasn't there in the first inning," Schmidt said. "You develop a routine as a starter; you pitch every fifth day, you throw the same day between starts and something little can throw you off mentally or physically."
The Pirates also are off their game, losing six of nine and eight of 12 to fall a season-low 10 ½ games behind Houston in the NL Central. They never trailed by more than six games last season.
"We're a very young team, and we know sometimes we're going to take our knocks," Kevin Young said. "he key is to learn from them. What we've got to do is develop some chemistry and learn as we go along."
Schmidt's wildness cost him as he failed for the fourth successive start to earn his ninth victory, walking five and throwing a costly wild pitch over six innings.
Schmidt (8-4) was the first NL pitcher to win eight games and appeared headed for the All-Star game until losing his last three decisions.
Young had a run-scoring single in the Pirates' first, but the White Sox got the run back in the second. Schmidt walked Ray Durham and advanced him to second on a wild pitch ahead of Thomas' second RBI single.
Robin Ventura walked to start the third, moved up on Ordonez's single and scored on a double play.
Sirotka was in serious trouble only in the fourth, partly because of errors by first baseman Thomas and left fielder Albert Belle that set up Ramirez's RBI single and Lou Collier's two-run single.
"From the fifth inning on, he really threw well," Thomas said of Sirotka. "We made a couple of mistakes out there or it wouldn't have been that close a game."
Notes: Sirotka has three more victories this season than he did previously in his career. ... Al Martin's slump continued for Pittsburgh. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and is 7-for-57 (.123) in his last 20 games. ... Pittsburgh has lost five of six at home. ... Mike Caruso, who was 3-for-5, is 12-for-23 in his last five games. ... The White Sox were only 1-7 on artificial turf until sweeping the two games. ... Thomas has six stolen bases, matching his career high in 1992.
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