DETROIT -- There are times this season where Marcus Semien has looked like an overmatched rookie. There are times where he has had the poise of a veteran.
Semien had the latter on display on Wednesday night.
The rookie got ahead in the count before he ripped a fastball for a game-winning grand slam in the seventh inning of a 6-4 White Sox victory over the Detroit Tigers in front of 23,451 at Comerica Park. The White Sox are in position for a series victory with a win in Thursday’s finale.
Semien’s drive made a winner of fellow rookie Andre Rienzo, who pitched 6 1/3 solid innings. It was also a big night for veteran Paul Konerko, who singled to start the winning rally. He had three hits and surpassed 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas to establish a franchise record with 3,950 total bases.
“Early on (Semien) had some rough at-bats and he just stays with it,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He continues to grind and fights off stuff and fights off a tough pitch and gets another one. He’s a good player. He’s a guy you like to see up there with guys on base.”
All three of Semien’s homers in 2014 have put the White Sox ahead in the seventh inning or later.
The infielder has had some bright moments in his second full month in the majors. He also has had some rough ones.
Three days after his bases-loaded triple put the White Sox over the top in Texas, Semien delivered again with his team trailing 4-2.
Konerko, who ended a 17 at-bat hitless stretch with a late single Tuesday, singled off reliever Evan Reed to start the seventh. One out later, Alejandro De Aza singled and Tyler Flowers walked to load the bases.
Left-hander Ian Krol got Jordan Danks to foul out to third base. But Krol didn’t have as much luck against Semien who got ahead 3-1 in the count and then ripped a 90-mph sinker into the bullpen. Semien is the only player in the majors this season with three go-ahead homers in the seventh inning or later.
Semien said he sat “dead red” on the 3-1 pitch and got extension. The Cal product has worked hard to not go away from his approach in big situations after he struggled earlier this season.
“I kind of think about using my hands more, taking my body out of the swing and trust my hands,” Semien said. “Doing the same routine pretty much before the game and you’ve just got to focus in sometimes and the first two at-bats didn’t go my way. But you’ve got to stick with it the whole game.”
The fourth inning didn’t go Rienzo’s way but the rest of his outing did.
The right-hander, who started in the place of injured Felipe Paulino, lost command of his curveball and Detroit took advantage, grabbing a 4-2 lead.
Rienzo retired eight of the first 10 men he faced before he walked Don Kelly with Miguel Cabrera on deck to start the fourth. Cabrera singled and, after a groundout advanced the runners, J.D. Martinez singled in both to tie the score at 2. Austin Jackson homered on the next pitch to deep left for a two-run lead.
But Rienzo rebounded and retired nine of the last 10 he faced. He allowed four earned runs and five hits while walking two.
“With Jackson I made a mistake,” Rienzo said. “It was supposed to be outside but it happens. But I think it worked good for the most part of the game. … It has to be more strikes. It kind of helps too because if I throw a strike they can’t just sit on my fastball.”
Scott Downs, Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings to preserve the victory. Lindstrom pitched around a walk and a hit in the ninth inning to earn his third save in five tries.
Prior to Semien’s homer, Tigers starter Drew Smyly held the White Sox in check. Smyly surrendered a two-run home run to center to Jose Abreu, his seventh in 22 games, in the first but then settled down. He retired 14 of the last 19 he faced before exiting after six innings.
The White Sox then came up empty in several spots until Semien’s homer.
“That was a big shot in the arm, especially with the way Andre was pitching,” Ventura said.