Between Lucas Giolito’s lapse in command, a three-error second inning and a string of wasted scoring opportunities on the day Yolmer Sánchez returned to the active roster, this felt like a 2018 White Sox reunion.
Of course, if the 2018 White Sox fell behind 4-0 to the Twins after three, they probably would’ve lost 13-1, with, I dunno, Adam Engel pitching the ninth.
Instead, because the White Sox are prohibited from losing games to left-handed starters, they used an absurd Max Kepler error to slingshot ahead in the ninth. They’re now 11-0 against lefties this year, and this win means they’ll depart Target Field still ahead of the Twins no matter what happens the remainder of the series.
The game was tied at 5 with one out in the ninth when Edwin Encarnación lofted a harmless fly to right center field. If Byron Buxton is out there, he takes command of the situation and makes the catch. Jake Cave patrolled center in this one, and he yielded his turf to Kepler, who came loping in to make a routine catch.
Or at least it should’ve been routine. Kepler just muffed it, Encarnación reached, and Twins closer Taylor Rogers couldn’t stop the ballgame from rolling into the lake. James McCann followed with one of his patented opposite-field singles, and Luis Robert hooked a liner inside the chalk in left field. Only one run scored because it hopped over the side wall, and when Danny Mendick struck out, it appeared as though Alex Colomé would be working without a net in the bottom of the inning.
But up came Nomar Mazara. Mazara doesn’t look like the player the White Sox thought they were getting, but that sometimes means that he serves purposes that weren’t in his product description. In this case, he won a lefty-lefty battle by pulling a sixth-pitch curveball through the right side for a two-run single. And then for good measure, he made a leaping catch on the warning track with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to keep the tying run — in the form of Nelson Cruz — from ever reaching the plate.
If we were talking hockey, Kepler and Mazara would have been the third and second stars of this game, with Luis Robert taking the night’s highest honors.
Before his double that put the Sox ahead in the ninth, he hit an obscene screamer off the limestone above the center field wall in the seventh. It registered at 449 feet and 111.2 mph, but more importantly, it re-tied the game after Codi Heuer put himself on the hook for an “L” with a rusty inning. The White Sox never trailed again.
Now, the White Sox probably shouldn’t have been trailing or tied for as long as they were. They outhit the Twins 11-5, and the out-walked the Twins 6-4. They had 20 at-bats with runners and scoring position, and only came up successful four times.
But a team before the 2020 White Sox would be hard-pressed to ever have 20 chances with runners in scoring position. Sometimes the good teams aren’t all that great about capitalizing on opportunities, but they compensate by creating too many opportunities to fail.
The White Sox had that kind of night against 40-year-old southpaw Rich Hill. They had multiple shots with a runner in scoring position from innings two through six, but they only succeeded with a couple of them.
They were able to score a couple runs in the fourth, but even then, they were lucky to escape with their dignity. Hill walked the bases loaded — Edwin Encarnación, McCann, Robert — to start the inning, but Danny Mendick hit a weak liner to the left side of second base. Luis Arraez didn’t catch it, and maybe he didn’t want to, but confusion followed. He flipped to second for the force, which was the base to which McCann retreted, having read the liner. Jorge Polanco caught the toss, but instead of tagging out McCann off second, he threw to first, where Mendick had already reached. Robert was retreating to first, but he was already forced out.
The umpires then convened unnecessarily. They’d gotten the call right. They might’ve only had to discuss it if Arraez gamed a double play out of the situation, because perhaps they could have ruled that he dropped it on purpose to trigger the infield fly rule. Infield fly or not, the result was the same — the bases still loaded with one out now on the board.
Anyway, Engel found the hole on the left side for a single that cleared the air and halved the Twins’ 4-0 lead. José Abreu made up the other half of the deficit, smoking a two-run double to the right-center gap off former teammate Tyler Clippard in the sixth.
The Twins had that 4-0 lead because Giolito lacked his no-hit form, and his defense failed to contribute. He walked Eddie Rosario to start the inning, then gave up a single to Miguel Sanó, which Engel played into a double by letting the ball squib under his glove. Rosario slid into third on the play instead of sprinting home, but he made up the last 90 feet when Arraez spanked a single to left for the game’s first run.
Sanó advanced to third, and came home when Marwin González hit a grounder to the right side. Nick Madrigal tried to get the runner at second, but he fired across the runner and into left field for the inning’s second error. Arraez scored on the play and González took second. González made it to third when Giolito himself booted a weak chopper off the bat of Kepler, but he brought the inning to an end with a strikeout.
Then in the fourth, Giolito hung a slider to Sanó for a solo shot.
Giolito retired seven of the last eight batters he faced, while Heuer gave up a run because he couldn’t throw competitive pitchers with his slider, the rest of the bullpen was nails. Jace Fry did exactly what he was supposed to do in the seventh — retire the two batters ahead of Cruz so he could be intentionally walked, then strike out Rosario to end the inning. Matt Foster stood out for his two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth. He’s now tied for second on the team in wins with four.
*Eloy Jiménez and Danny Mendick both went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and stranded 15 runners between them.
*Sánchez made his return to the Sox as a pinch runner for Encarnación after he reached on an error. He actually scored the winning run.
*The Indians lost to Kansas City 2-1, so the White Sox are in sole possession of first place.