OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Out of the corner of his eye, Chicago reliever Matt Thornton saw Coco Crisp breaking for home plate, but the left-hander couldn’t stop his motion without committing a balk.

Good thing for the White Sox.

A.J. Pierzynski caught Thornton’s inside pitch and dove in front of the plate to cut down Crisp trying to score the tying run on a straight steal in the eighth inning, helping to preserve a 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

“He caught me off guard a little bit,” Thornton said. “You never know, if I flinch you might get a balk. Everyone thought he was just going to deke a little bit, fake in and come back out, but he kept on going.

“Two weeks ago that’s a game-tying run and who knows what happens? But we’re playing a little better baseball right now and getting some better results as a whole.”

The White Sox, winners of five of their last six, are definitely on the upswing following a 4-18 stretch that threatened to take them out of contention before the All-Star break.

Chicago is still nine games behind first-place Cleveland in the AL Central but the outlook is a lot more optimistic than it once was.

Omar Vizquel had an RBI double during a four-run second inning and Phil Humber (3-3) pitched well into the seventh. Chicago managed only five hits and did all its scoring in one inning but made several stellar defensive plays.

The biggest came when Crisp tried a rare straight steal of home, a play that had the White Sox clubhouse buzzing long after the game ended.

Crisp led off the inning with a single, stole second and went to third on Daric Barton’s groundout. The speedy outfielder faked as if he was going to steal, then broke for home while Thornton was in his windup. Pierzynski caught the pitch and reached out to tag Crisp on the shoulder as he dove for a corner of the plate.

“I was trying to make something happen, but it’s a play I have to make,” Crisp said. “I still believe if I don’t stutter step, I make it. If he (Pierzynski) hesitates, I’m in. It was a good pitch and a good play by him.”

Humber gave up three runs and six hits in six-plus innings, the fourth straight solid outing by the right-hander. He didn’t walk a batter for the first time in seven starts this season.

Sergio Santos worked the ninth for his fourth save in four chances.

Humber, claimed off waivers from Oakland in January, had his only bad inning in the seventh when the A’s chased him with four consecutive singles.

Humber’s wild pitch with the bases loaded scored Ryan Sweeney from third, and David DeJesus’ second hit of the night, a soft single to right, drove in Hideki Matsui. Jesse Crain struck out Mark Ellis, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Kevin Kouzmanoff that cut the White Sox lead to 4-3.

Crain avoided further damage by picking off DeJesus at first.

“I’ll take it,” Humber said. “I didn’t pitch that great out there. They hit a lot of balls hard right at guys. Fortunately we put some runs on the board early and then the bullpen came in and did a great job.”

DeJesus finished with two hits and needs one more to reach 1,000 for his career.

Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy had control problems in the second inning when the White Sox scored four times. He gave up a leadoff single to Paul Konerko, then issued back-to-back walks to load the bases. Alex Rios’ grounder scored one run and Vizquel followed with an RBI double.

Gordon Beckham’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0, and after Juan Pierre reached on an infield single, McCarthy threw wildly to first on a pickoff attempt. The ball rolled into Chicago’s bullpen as Vizquel raced in from third.

McCarthy (1-4) settled down and allowed only two hits over the next five innings but remains winless over his last six starts.

The right-hander had six strikeouts and two walks.

“We got down four but then (McCarthy) got it back quickly and got better as the game went along,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said. “It was right there for us, but we couldn’t overcome the early four-run deficit.”

NOTES: Injured Oakland closer Andrew Bailey played catch before leaving for Arizona, where he’s scheduled to pitch one inning in an extended spring training game Saturday. … The A’s played without OF Josh Willingham, who served a one-game suspension for bumping plate umpire Bill Miller while arguing a called third strike against Kansas City on May 6. … Playing 20 games without an off day, the White Sox are going with a six-man rotation and manager Ozzie Guillen isn’t ruling out using it beyond that. … Justine Siegel, a 36-year-old mother of one, threw batting practice to Geren and a few A’s players before the game. Siegel had previously pitched batting practice for Oakland in spring training and was extended an invitation to join the team at the Coliseum.

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