Forty-two games left, and the White Sox get just four more shots at the Twins. So of course, this has the feel of a must-win game for Chicago.
In Mark Buehrle, they have to believe they have the right pitcher for tonight's challenge. He has 11 quality starts in his past 12 outings. He consistently gives Chicago a chance to win. The Twins know him inside-and-out, and they know enough that when he's on his game, it can be a long night. Actually, it's usually a short night when Buehrle gets in a groove. The last time he faced the Twins, on July 17, he and Carl Pavano sent the paying patrons home after 1 hour, 52 minutes.
Pavano is 10-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his past 13 starts, but he's been one hit away from trouble in each of his past three -- against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Oakland -- allowing 33 base runners (26 hits and seven walks) in 19 1/3 innings.
Yes, the Twins are 10-4 against the White Sox this year, but as La Velle noted in last night's game story, nine of these games have been decided by one run. No doubt these past two -- both 7-6 finals -- could have gone either way.
Jim Thome's walk-off homer on Tuesday was spectacular, but what happens if Michael Cuddyer doesn't make that scoop on J.J. Hardy's throw with the bases loaded and the score tied in the ninth inning? And what if Alexei Ramirez had come through again against Twins closer Matt Capps after Juan Pierre's RBI single pulled Chicago within a run?
As Detective Lester Freamon said on The Wire: "Allll the pieces matter."
This series has been a success for the Twins no matter what happens tonight, but you have to wonder if Chicago would be able to recover from a sweep, leaving town with six games to make up in 6 1/2 weeks.
Update: Joe Mauer is at DH with Drew Butera continuing to serve as Pavano's personal catcher. Nick Punto is getting the start at shortstop, with J.J. Hardy on the bench. Hardy is 0-for-8 lifetime against Buehrle, Punto is 13-for-48 (.271).
Carlos Quentin, who is 0-for-10 lifetime against Pavano, is not in the lineup for Chicago.
WHITE SOX (65-55)
1. Juan Pierre, LF
2. Omar Vizquel, 3B
3. Alex Rios, CF
4. Paul Konerko, 1B
5. Mark Teahen, RF
6. Alexei Ramirez, SS
7. Mark Kotsay, DH
8. A.J. Pierzynski, C
9. Gordon Beckham, 2B
Starting pitcher: LH Mark Buehrle (11-9, 4.05 ERA)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jason Kubel, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Nick Punto, SS
9. Drew Butera, C
Starting pitcher: RH Carl Pavano (15-7, 3.27 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 7:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network