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Thome, Chicago get in last shot against Angels

September 07, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- No wonder Angels center fielder Torii Hunter felt a little disoriented Saturday night.

His team threw everything it had at the Chicago White Sox -- a successful five-man infield to escape a first-and-third, none-out jam in the 10th inning; four home runs, including one from a rookie shortstop to break a ninth-inning tie; and three perfect innings from a reliever who got about two hours' sleep the night before.

And what did the Angels have to show for it? Nothing after Jim Thome crushed a walk-off home run against Justin Speier an estimated 438 feet to right field in the 15th inning to lift the White Sox to a dramatic 7-6 win in U.S. Cellular Field.

"Man, I'm drained -- I feel like a zombie," Hunter said after the Angels' longest game since an 18-inning loss at Toronto on July 28, 2005. "We left it all on the field. We battled. Both pitching staffs did a great job, and it ended with a bang. If you're going to lose, sometimes you're going to lose like that."

Speier is losing at an alarming rate. Pitching for the fourth straight day because Manager Mike Scioscia had exhausted his bullpen, Speier gave up his 13th home run in 60 2/3 innings this season. Six of them were game-winners, two of those walk-offs.

Speier is 1-8 with a 5.04 earned-run average and is pitching himself right off the Angels' postseason roster, a possibility that seems apparent to everyone but the veteran right-hander.

"No, I'm not concerned," Speier said. "You have no control over anything in life. You just have to work hard every day. That's the mentality I have."

It didn't help Speier that juxtaposed next to his loss was a superb three-inning effort by Jason Bulger, who was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday and spent most of Friday night doing laundry and packing before catching an early flight to Chicago.

"I had more innings pitched than hours of sleep," Bulger said. "Maybe that's the key."

Bulger retired the side in order in the 12th, 13th and 14th innings, striking out five, career highs for innings pitched and strikeouts. The right-hander was dominant at triple A and will challenge Speier for a spot on the Angels' playoff roster.

"Unbelievable," Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen said of Bulger. "He threw 94 mph with a lot of split-fingers. He was on top of his game, and the ball was moving a lot. His forkball was unhittable."

The White Sox were on the verge of victory in the 10th when they put runners on first and third with none out. Scioscia pulled left fielder Reggie Willits for Robb Quinlan, who positioned himself between first and second.

Reliever Scot Shields struck out Thome, and Quinlan moved to the shortstop hole for Paul Konerko, who grounded to third. Chone Figgins fielded the ball and tagged A.J. Pierzynski for the second out.

Quinlan then moved to left field for Ken Griffey Jr., who smashed a drive to deep center that Hunter ran down at the warning track.

"That was a heck of a move by Scioscia," Hunter said. "It worked."

Brandon Wood had broken a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth with a solo home run to left against White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.

On came Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels closer with a nine-inning scoreless streak. Alexei Ramirez singled and took third on Nick Swisher's single to right. Pinch-hitter Dewayne Wise hit a sacrifice fly for a 6-6 tie, saddling Rodriguez with his sixth blown save.

Starter John Lackey wasn't much better at holding a lead. Figgins hit a solo homer in the third, and consecutive homers by Juan Rivera (two-run) and Mike Napoli (solo) gave the Angels a 5-2 lead in the sixth.

But Chicago, which leads the major leagues with 207 home runs, stormed back with Konerko's solo homer in the sixth and Swisher's tying two-run shot in the seventh.

Thome's game-winner was his 11th career walk-off homer. He also hit one for his 500th home run here last September against the Angels. Saturday's was No. 537, breaking a tie with Mickey Mantle for 14th place on the all-time list.

"He didn't get a pitch where he wanted to," Scioscia said of Speier, "and Thome didn't miss it."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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