By JAY COHEN | AP Baseball Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Johnny Cueto kept going after a tough start — long enough for Yoán Moncada to deliver a big hit.
Moncada lined a tiebreaking two-run single in Chicago's four-run eighth inning, and the White Sox beat the Houston Astros 4-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight win.
Chicago (60-56) moved four games over .500 for the first time since it was 6-2 on April 16. It also pulled within two games of AL Central-leading Cleveland, which split a doubleheader against Detroit.
“That's what we need to do in every game," Cueto said through a translator. “Just have to compete and have the same energy level and excitement that we had today.”
Chicago's winning rally started after José Urquidy retired the first two batters. Urquidy was pulled after AJ Pollock's infield hit, and the White Sox jumped all over Rafael Montero (4-2).
Andrew Vaughn doubled before Eloy Jiménez bounced a tying two-run double down the third-base line. Walks to José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal loaded the bases for Moncada, who made it 4-2 with a liner into center.
“I went out there just looking for fastball,” Moncada said through a translator. “I wasn't looking for anything else, just fastball, and he threw me a fastball.”
The four-run outburst handed a win to Cueto (5-5), who pitched eight masterful innings. Liam Hendriks finished his 26th save when he retired Mauricio Dubón on a popup to first with two runners on.
Houston (75-42) wasted a stellar performance by Urquidy, who permitted six hits — all singles — struck out four and walked none. The AL West leaders had won four in a row.
“That unraveled like very, very quickly,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “and it's tough to take. It's tough.”
The White Sox improved to 2-2 in the season series after they were eliminated by the Astros in the playoffs last year. The reigning AL Central champions send Dylan Cease to the mound Tuesday night, but the Astros counter with Justin Verlander in a matchup of two of baseball’s best pitchers.
Houston got to Cueto for two in the first, helped by an error on second baseman Josh Harrison. Yordan Alvarez hit a sacrifice fly, and Alex Bregman doubled home Yuli Gurriel from first.
But Cueto was terrific for the rest of his outing, allowing a total of six hits and walking one. He improved to 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his last nine starts.
“It’s fun to watch him,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Verlander (15-3, 1.85 ERA) and Cease (12-5, 1.96 ERA) are two of the front-runners for the AL Cy Young Award.
“It'll be fun,” Verlander said. “I don't think you get a lot of moments like this, where you get two guys having great years like this that match up. Things have to align, so it's very exciting.”
The 39-year-old Verlander is 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last eight starts. His last loss was on June 18 against the White Sox, when he allowed four earned runs in a season-low 3 2/3 innings.
Cease, 26, is in the middle of a breakout performance. The right-hander has permitted one earned run or fewer in each of his last 14 starts, going 8-3 with 103 strikeouts in 82 innings over that stretch.
According to Elias, it's the first matchup of starters with the majors' best ERAs with both teams having played more than half of their games since Houston's Roger Clemens faced St. Louis' Chris Carpenter on Sept. 3, 2005.
“I'm going to have to really be careful and make sure I don't spectate and manage,” Baker said. “Because if I was at home I'd get me a bowl of popcorn and some beer and only time I'd leave is if there was a commercial or in between innings, because that's a classic good one.”
Astros: SS Jeremy Peña was scratched because of neck tightness. He is day to day.
White Sox: CF Luis Robert (sprained left wrist) missed his third consecutive game. La Russa said Robert was going to work out and take some swings, and that would give the team a good idea about when he might return to the lineup. ... RHP Vince Velasquez (right index finger blister) was reinstated from the 15-day injured list, and RHP Matt Foster was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. ... La Russa said RHP Joe Kelly (lightheadedness) was available.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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