The White Sox got back to the Central issue of this season Friday night.
For the first time in nearly a month, they returned to playing their own AL Central. So far, that has been a very good thing.
U.S. Cellular Field, the Sox improved to 19-4 against the division. And they have needed every one of those victories. While they have sped away to the best record in baseball, right there in their rearview mirror just 31/2 games behind are the Minnesota Twins.
"You always worry about that team," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Look at how good we've played all year long, and they're right behind us. That means they're playing great baseball. But we know the situation is going to happen all year long. I said 20 or 30 days ago this is not going to be easy. And we were playing real good then. I said this will be a fight all the way to the end.
"Right now my team just has to worry about winning games. When you win, you don't have to worry about who is behind you. Let them worry about us. Then when you're in second place, you have to win and worry about what the guys in front of you did. Right now we're in first place and we just have to win games."
They won Friday thanks to two RBIs each from Carl Everett and Jermaine Dye, six so-so innings from Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, two hitless innings from Neal Cotts and a 12th straight save from Dustin Hermanson.
"That's my job," Hermanson said, "to go out there and never blow one."
Hernandez (6-1), making his first start since coming off the disabled list with shoulder stiffness, was noticeably rusty, throwing 55 pitches through three innings and hitting four batters in the first five innings.
He did retire eight of the last 10 batters before leaving after six innings with a 6-4 lead.
"My shoulder felt good," he said. "I had no pain. That was the best part."
And the four hit batters?
"All season, my control has not been good. No excuses," he said.
Hernandez's teammates collected a season-high six hitsall singlesin the first inning but scored only four runs. They have yet to score five runs in an inning this season, something they did 23 times a year ago.
Leadoff man Scott Podsednik began the nine-man merry-go-round with a single, stole second and got to third on Tadahito Iguchi's ground out. Four straight hits came from Aaron Rowand, Paul Konerko, Everett and Dye. And one batter later, Juan Uribe capped it with an RBI single.
With the four runs, the Sox now have scored 42 times in the first, by far their best inning. Opponents have scored only 17.
The lead disappeared in the fourth when the Indians came up with four of their own with a little help from Hernandez.
Coco Crisp's three-run homer was the big blow, but two of the runners who scored were put on base with a hit-by-pitch and walk.
The Sox got the lead back for Hernandez in the fifth with singles by Rowand and Konerko, a sacrifice fly by Everett and an RBI single by Dye.
"Winning the first game allows you to win series," Everett said.
And helps win the division.
"If you want to win the division," Guillen said, "you've got to play good against them. Hopefully this continues."
White Sox 6, Indians 4