-- All day they tried to convince a disbelieving city that they would not crumble. As choke, panic and despair flew around the Windy City, there were the Chicago White Sox, their division lead in sudden peril, laughing giddily at the abyss that threatens to devour them.

Tuesday night's starting pitcher, Mark Buehrle, crept along the edge of the dugout an hour before the first pitch, waiting until the precise moment to leap behind first base coach Tim Raines and deliver a towel filled with shaving cream to Raines's face while the coach was being interviewed on television.

Even as Raines spit and swore and vowed revenge, the rest of the White Sox lounged in their clubhouse trying to convince the rest of the world that they were still having fun, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their once 15-game lead in the American League Central had dwindled to 21/2.

Center fielder Aaron Rowand spent the hours before Tuesday night's game trying to convince a sports writer that, no, he did not look like Johnny Drama from "Entourage,"though it was hard to hear his protests. The music was too loud. Just like the night before, when after a bitter loss to these same Cleveland Indians, designated hitter Carl Everett pumped the volume on the clubhouse stereo, stuck a cigar in his mouth and danced in circles.

In fact, they had so much fun trying to prove the world had indeed not come to an end that when they actually did win the game on Joe Crede's leadoff home run in the 10th inning, staving off demise for at least an evening and pushing their lead back to 31/2 games with a 7-6 win over Cleveland, they were rather subdued.

The music did not blast. Everett did not have a cigar, nor did he dance. Rather the players calmly sat in front of their lockers and talked casually as if the previous 31/2 hours in which they twice trailed by two runs was just another day at the golf course.

Such a dramatic change from earlier in the day. Back then, never had a team in such a precarious position seemed so free. As predictions of their demise fell all around them, the White Sox pranced merrily along as if this 1978 Red Sox script they have been following was all just a big joke like the shaving cream splattered on Raines's face.

Maybe it worked. The Indians have been stoic in their march toward the White Sox' suddenly shaky perch. It is not an exciting approach. Nothing like that of fiery White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, who alternated between protesting that he is not insane and boasting about the 545 e-mails he received, though he didn't take time to read the supportive ones.

"I just read the headline and if it says 'You choke!' I read that one," he said. "Those that say 'Why use [Damaso] Marte?' I read those because maybe I can learn something. I want to read those, they might be right."

Guffaws all around.

Perhaps Guillen's crazy one-liners and the rants about his e-mails actually do keep his team going. And with Crede's blast into the night, the laughing died down.

Maybe after trying to convince everybody else that they were alive, they finally convinced themselves.