High anxiety for Sox

Tribune staff reporter

One big inning. And two big scares.

The White Sox earned a 5-4 victory over the Royals on Tuesday night by scoring five runs in the second inning, highlighted by Roberto Alomar's heady baserunning and a two-run homer by Frank Thomas.

Then they had to hang on for their lives as Billy Koch and Damaso Marte tried to nail down the final four outs of the game.

The Sox couldn't breathe easy until center fielder Willie Harris squeezed Raul Ibanez's fly ball for the final out.

In a game they desperately needed, the Sox snapped their three-game losing streak and shrunk the Royals' lead in the American League Central to two games before a sellout paid crowd of 38,973.

Esteban Loaiza gutted through six innings to improve to 14-5. His American League-leading earned-run average took a small step up to 2.30.

Not bad for a guy who few teams wanted to sign in the off-season.

"I'm sure [the critics] are out there biting their tongues," he said. "But I don't want to say anything rude."

Loaiza departed after throwing 121 pitches, and Kelly Wunsch didn't drop the baton.

He mowed down all five Royals he faced. He struck out Carlos Beltran and Ibanez to open the eighth.

That's when Sox manager Jerry Manuel opted to roll the dice. With the right-handed-hitting Ryan Harvey coming up, Manuel called on Koch.

Sox fans rained boos on Manuel as if he had been wearing a Sammy Sosa jersey.

Manuel said he made the move because he wanted to instill confidence in the beleaguered Koch.

"I know it was an unpopular decision, but that's the mind-set," he said. "We have to win games, but at the same time, we're going to need Billy Koch to do what he can do."

Koch gave up a double off Magglio Ordonez's glove, but Marte got the final out in the inning after walking Desi Relaford.

The Royals scored twice in the ninth after Joe Crede's errant throw could have ended the game.

Marte recovered to retire Ibanez for his eighth save.

The Sox did all their damage in the second. Miguel Olivo drove in Paul Konerko with a single and scored after Alomar stroked a single to right.

Olivo tripped over catcher Brent Mayne, belly-flopping on home plate. He had to leave the game with soreness in his right shoulder, but the injury is not considered serious.

Carlos Lee kept the rally going by hitting a grounder to the left side. Joe Randa tried to make a diving stop, but the ball bounced off his glove into shallow left field.

Alomar alertly scored to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.

Frank Thomas then sent a surge through the crowd by ripping Kyle Snyder's 3-2 fastball over the center-field wall. The 420-foot blast, Thomas' 27th, gave the Sox a 5-1 lead.

It proved to be just enough.

The attendance was listed at 38,973, but that didn't include 9,000 complimentary tickets the Sox distributed, mostly as the result of a blood drive.

The Sox sold 18,040 tickets Tuesday, the highest day-of-game sales in the history of the new ballpark. All available tickets were sold.

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