MINNEAPOLIS – Just when the Minnesota Twins really looked to be grabbing hold of the AL Central division, Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle and the Chicago White Sox delivered an emphatic message: This race is far from over.
Konerko had five hits and four RBIs and Buehrle pitched seven shutout innings to help the White Sox slow surging Minnesota with an 11-0 romp on Thursday night.
Buehrle (12-9) allowed five hits and struck out four. Konerko hit his 31st home run and had a double and three singles among Chicago's 21 hits to help the Sox avoid a sweep and shave the Twins' lead to four games in the AL Central.
"We will fight to the end," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "How's the fight going to go? I don't know how the fight is going to go, but we're going to fight like a champ. We're not down."
Carl Pavano (15-8) set a career high and tied a club record with 15 hits allowed. He gave up seven runs in six innings. The Twins lost at sold-out Target Field for the first time in 10 games and missed a chance to take a six-game lead in the division.
"We expect it to be all the way down to the end," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the race. "We'll attack it as is."
In the first two games of the series, the Twins rallied in the late innings to win. With Buehrle dealing and the Sox slugging, Minnesota had no chance in this one.
Buehrle allowed just three baserunners past first base all night long, an encouraging sign for a guy who was 1-4 with a 6.69 ERA in his last six starts against the Twins.
The fast-working lefty wasn't the only White Sox player who has struggled against the Twins. Chicago lost 10 of the first 14 meetings in the season series and there was talk that the Twins held some kind of mental edge that could prove too much to overcome in the final six weeks of the season.
But the Sox brushed that aside in a big way on Thursday night.
"Obviously, you don't want to get down too much," Buehrle said. "There's 40 some odd games left, but you get down to a team like this, they're a great team and the way they've been playing.
"And the way we've been playing, if we dig ourselves too big of a hole, then it's going to be hard to come out of. Must win or not, we won the game, that's all that matters."
Pavano entered the game hoping to join CC Sabathia as the only two 16-game winners in the AL. But as great as he has been all year for the Twins, there were signs that a rougher start was coming.
The mustachioed righty allowed 132 baserunners in 125 innings before the All-Star break, but the hits were starting to come in bunches recently. Pavano has allowed 48 baserunners in his last 25 1-3 innings pitched.
"Maybe I'm getting a little too much of the plate and the ball's up a little bit or maybe I'm being a little too predictable as far as my pitch sequences," Pavano said. "It's something I'm going to have to revisit and look at and make some adjustments, that's for sure."
He was able to pitch out of jams effectively in his previous four outings, winning three of them.
No such luck this time around.
The White Sox jumped on Pavano early, getting two runs and four hits, including an RBI single by Teahen to take a 2-0 lead in the first.
Teahen added an RBI-triple in the third and A.J. Pierzynski followed with a double off the wall in right-center to make it 4-0.
Konerko led off the fifth with a solo shot, essentially putting the game out of reach for a Twins offense iced by Buehrle.
Twins right fielder Jason Kubel was asked if he thought this race would come down to the wire.
"I sure hope not," he said. "But if it does, we'll be ready."
NOTES: Twins SS Nick Punto left the game in the fifth inning after straining his left hamstring on a slide into second base. It's the same injury that landed him on the DL earlier this month. Gardenhire said Punto will be examined by team doctors on Friday. ... White Sox RHP J.J. Putz left the game in the eighth inning with right knee inflammation. He is listed as day-to-day. ... Buehrle got some help on defense, too, getting a great diving stab from ageless 3B Omar Vizquel to save a run. ... Chicago leadoff man Juan Pierre, who had three hits, was hit with a pitch by Perkins in the eighth. It's the 17th time he's been hit this year, tying him with teammate Carlos Quentin for most in the AL.