If this were a must-win game, Tony La Russa might’ve followed the two innings that Michael Kopech pitched with two innings from Liam Hendriks to nurse a one-run lead to the finish line. Instead, with an 8½ game lead and Cleveland losing handily, he tried Ryan Burr in the eighth.
On one hand, it backfired after two batters. Josh Donaldson singled, Jorge Polanco homered, and the Twins went from trailing 4-3 to leading 5-4.
On the other hand, it set the stage for one of the most satisfying innings of the season — one quality plate appearance after another, culminating in a three-run homer by José Abreu that pushed a small deficit into a game that wasn’t even a save situation for Hendriks.
The White Sox possessed enough magic to win a game they didn’t mind losing. Combine it with Cleveland’s 9-3 loss to Houston, and Chicago now leads the AL Central by 9½ games.
Until the White Sox erupted for five runs in the bottom of the eighth, this game had all the makings of their May 18 loss to Minnesota, when the White Sox bled away an early 4-0 lead and lost 5-4. That’s better remembered as the game the Twins retaliated against Yermín Mercedes.
The Sox tore up that script before the finish against Jorge Alcala. He struck out Leury García to start the inning, but it took nine pitches and foreshadowed struggles to come. Adam Engel drew his third walk of the game, followed by a walk to Zack Collins. With Seby Zavala coming to the plate — and with Zavala already grounding out weakly with the bases loaded earlier in the game — La Russa forfeited the DH by pinch-hitting Andrew Vaughn.
The gamble paid off. Vaughn flipped a single into right center, and while Engel got a terrible read on the play, he still had the speed to slingshot around third on Joe McEwing’s aggressive send and beat the throw home with a slide that required all of its precision. His hand stabbed the plate before Mitch Garver’s mitt tagged Engel, and the Sox tied the game at 5.
Tim Anderson struck out, bringing Billy Hamilton to the plate in a spot that was originally for Gavin Sheets. Hamilton replaced him as a pinch runner after Sheets reached on an error in the sixth, and the substitution appeared to be overly aggressive when Hamilton came to the plate as a righty to face a righty.
Hamilton didn’t leave much time for regret, because he slashed the first pitch through the left side to score Collins and regain the lead. Two pitches later, Abreu removed the doubt with a towering blast to left.
It was a roundabout way of achieving the score this one appeared to have from the first few innings ,when the Sox built a 4-1 lead through three against Bailey Ober. A first-inning Miguel Sano error kickstarted a two-run first, as Abreu doubled home Tim Anderson, and Brian Goodwin singled home Abreu for a quick 2-0 lead.
Max Kepler homered in the second, but Yoán Moncada answered it with his third homer in four games in the third. He scored Abreu, who undressed Luis Arraez with a scorched, sinking liner that caused Arraez to slip while trying to pull up. Abreu ended up a single short of the cycle, while Moncada lacked the triple.
Dallas Keuchel wasn’t the best choice to hold a lead against a team that can post crooked numbers in a hurry, but he was fine over five innings. He gave up the homer to Kepler, then opened the fifth with three straight baserunners, including an Andrelton Simmons single that made it a 4-2 game and put runners on the corners with nobody out. Keuchel rallied by locking up Trevor Larnach, getting Garver to fly out too shallow to center for a sacrifice. Nelson Cruz presented a formidable final boss, but Keuchel struck him out on three pitches and called it a night.
Kopech didn’t have his command, but he shook off a leadoff homer by Donaldson in the sixth to get through the sixth and seventh without further incident. He walked two batters in the latter inning, but Goodwin stranded them both with a diving catch on Cruz’s sinking liner.
The White Sox had opportunities to stretch the lead during this time, but the Sox’s catchers failed to convert with bases loaded and one out in the sixth (Collins popped out, Zavala tapped out). They also stranded two in the seventh.
*Burr picked up the win despite blowing the save in the eighth.
*Anderson’s hitting streak ended at 16 games.
*Abreu went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and four RBIs. Moncada was 3-for-4 with a run and two RBIs, with a great charging play to get Donaldson to end the game.
*Vaughn’s single was the only hit out of the bottom four spots, although they reached base five times on three Engel walks, one by Collins, and a García HBP.