CLEVELAND -- There's no denying he has been bigger -- much bigger. But never has C.C. Sabathia been better.
Sabathia (5-1) missed nearly all of April after getting hurt on opening night in Chicago, but the large left-hander, whose battle with his weight has been an issue with Cleveland fans for years, has easily been the best thing about the Indians, who are chasing both the White Sox and Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
Sabathia allowed two runs and seven hits, struck out five and improved to 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA since Aug. 5. Picking up where he left off last season, the 6-foot-7, 290-plus pounder agreed that this is the best stretch of his career.
"I think so," he said. "I'm feeling great. I can go out there with a clear mind and make my pitches."
Sabathia improved to 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in seven career starts against White Sox ace Mark Buehrle (6-3) as the Indians bounced back after being pummeled 11-0 in the opener of the four-game series.
In May, Sabathia went 5-1 with 1.20 ERA in six starts, tossed two complete games and kept the Indians from falling apart.
"He had to work hard," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He had to make some big pitches and get some big outs. He never wavered from it. He was as tough as I've seen him. Time and time again he has been a big boost for us."
Peralta homered in Cleveland's four-run third inning off Buehrle, who came in 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his previous four starts. The left-hander gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings, but remained winless vs. Sabathia.
"I didn't know I never beat him," Buehrle said. "Maybe if somebody else matches up with him, we'd win."
Sabathia doesn't sense any alarm among the Indians, who had a similarly slow start last season and flirted with a playoff berth before a late collapse.
"We did it last year," he said. "It's not going to be easy. I don't think there's any panic in here it all. I don't know if that's good or bad, but we'll see."
Trailing 4-3 since the third, the White Sox got the tying run to second with one out in the ninth, but Bob Wickman struck out pinch-hitter Rob Mackowiak and got Tadahito Iguchi to ground out to second to earn his eighth save.
Although he didn't have his best stuff, Sabathia did enough to remain unbeaten against Buehrle and improve to 10-3 in his career against the White Sox. There were some anxious moments, though.
Chicago put two runners on in the fifth before Sabathia struck out Paul Konerko in a nine-pitch at-bat. In the sixth, he fanned Brian Anderson on his 112th and final pitch, punctuating the whiff with a scream before heading to the dugout.
"Once they took the lead, he grabbed the bull by the horns," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Sabathia. "Every time he needed a big pitch it was 97 or 98 (mph). The rest of the time it was 93 or 94, but when he needed to make a big pitch, he reached back and got it up there."
Down 3-0 and being outscored 14-0 in the series, the Indians scored four times in the third off Buehrle, who hadn't given up a run in 23 straight innings.
Aaron Boone, back in the lineup after sustaining a mild concussion in a nasty spill in Monday's game, led off with a sinking single to right field that skipped past Jermaine Dye for a two-base error. Buehrle then hit Grady Sizemore before Jason Michaels' sacrifice fly made it 3-1.
Peralta, recently criticized by Wedge for not hustling, followed with a two-run homer, his fifth this season and first since May 10. Travis Hafner doubled and Victor Martinez brought him in with a double to the same spot in right-center as the Indians took a 4-3 lead.
Sabathia, coming off consecutive complete games against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, had not allowed a run in 15 innings when Dye connected for his 14th homer in the second to put the White Sox ahead 1-0.
Chicago added two runs in the third, set up by a throwing error by Martinez, who cleanly fielded Anderson's sacrifice bunt in front of the plate but threw wildly into right field.
Pablo Ozuna followed with a two-run double into the right-field corner.
Wickman has gotten a save in each of his last 24 chances. ... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Chicago's Jim Thome is the first player to hit 20 homers in his first 50 games with a new club. ... Wedge picked up his 266th career win, tying him with Alvin Dark for 10th on the club's career list. ... Despite the loss, the White Sox are 9-2 at Jacobs Field dating to last season. ... Martinez's throwing error was Cleveland's AL-leading 39th miscue this season. ... Boone felt fortunate following his unplanned flip into the photographer's pit while chasing a foul pop on Monday. "I wasn't sure what happened," Boone said. "I was definitely stunned. I felt like I cut myself. All in all, I was pretty lucky. That's a pretty good drop to go on cement straight ahead."