The Chicago White Sox are for real. Frank

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

The Chicago White Sox are for real.

Frank Thomas hit a two-run homer and Ray Durham had three RBI Monday as first-place Chicago opened a three-game lead in the division over Cleveland with an 8-7 win over the Indians.

"I don't think we're getting cocky," said White Sox pitcher Cal Eldred. "I think we go home at night realizing that this team has the ability to win."

Chicago has won 10 of 12 and Monday began a stretch of 14 games where it will play the five-time defending Central champion Indians seven times, and the World Series champion New York Yankees seven more.

If anyone needed more proof the White Sox are legitimate, Monday's game was the clincher. And if a season can turn on a game in mid-June, this might be the one.

Chicago outhit, outpitched, outplayed and outlasted the Indians, who haven't been in second place this late in the year since 1994.

"We need to keep pushing," said White Sox manager Jerry Manuel. "If people don't believe, fine. But we have to stay driven if we're going to have a chance and stay competitive for the long haul."

Russell Branyan homered twice, and Travis Fryman, Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome connected for the Indians, who have been in first place just 17 days this season after being there for 360 of a possible 362 days the past two years.

"Three games back is not a whole lot," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "But we want to keep the margin close."

Trailing 8-3 in the seventh, the Indians closed to 8-7 in the ninth on Thome's home run, but Keith Foulke got Sandy Alomar Jr. to hit into a game-ending double play.

The Indians, who left 14 runners on base Sunday, stranded seven more in the final three innings and went 1-for-9 with men in scoring position.

"We hit five home runs and all we needed was one single to win the game," Charlie Manuel said.

Eldred (7-2) pitched six effective innings for the White Sox, who hadn't been in first place during a visit to Jacobs Field since July 21, 1994. And the way Chicago is playing, it seems the White Sox are enjoying the view from atop the standings.

"On this team everybody steps up," said Eldred, 5-0 in his last six starts. "It's not the same guys every night. ... The good thing is that I see guys saying it's one win, it's in June and we've got a lot of work to do."

Eldred said it was tough watching Foulke work out of the ninth.

"It's worse when you're not playing," he said. "Your gut starts hurting."

Rookie starter Paul Rigdon (1-1) took the loss, and with their pitching staff in shambles because of injury, the Indians had to use Kane Davis in relief.

Davis' major league debut came in the middle of the Indians' biggest game to date this year.

Trailing 8-3, the Indians scored twice in the seventh and had runners at second and third with none out.

But reliever Bob Howry struck out David Justice and Thome before getting Fryman on a tapper in front of the plate.

Fryman argued that catcher Brook Fordyce fielded the ball in foul territory and was ejected by plate umpire Chuck Meriwether.

"The ball checked back like a golf ball," Fryman said. "The way I saw it, it hit fair, came back in the batter's box and the catcher caught it. Chuck Meriwether didn't see it that way."

Branyan's second homer _ and sixth in 19 at-bats this season _ brought the Indians within 8-6 in the eighth, and again Cleveland had runners in scoring position.

But Howry retired Omar Vizquel on a fly to right and struck out Roberto Alomar with runners at second and third.

Notes: The Sox have won eight of their last nine road games and 12 of 16. ... Thomas' homer in the second helped the White Sox tie a club record (1987) by homering in their 16th straight game. It also tied Thomas with Hall of Famer George Brett with 317 career homers, 76th on the career list. ... Thomas is batting .500 (8-for-16) with three homers and nine RBI vs. Cleveland this season. ... Roberto Alomar's fiancee, French Open champion Mary Pierce, just back from winning her title Saturday in Paris, attended the game.

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