Finally, the White Sox’s ability to beat themselves came in handy.
They had to have recognized what they saw on the field against them. The Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead two batters in against a clearly limited Michael Kopech, only to see Kopech pitch into the sixth as he and four White Sox relievers kept them scoreless the rest of the way.
The Tigers tried to squeeze six innings out of a Drew Hutchinson who completed five innings for the first time all year his last time out, only to see him lose a battle to Gavin Sheets in the form of a game-tying homer one batter away from the finish line.
And they should’ve been out of the eighth inning with the game tied at 2 after Luis Robert hit a high, seemingly routine fly to left. But the wind kept blowing it toward center field, and Robbie Grossman never got under it. It clanked off his glove for an error that ended baseball’s longest-ever errorless streak at 440 games.
The White Sox capitalized. AJ Hinch brought in Gregory Soto, but although Soto struck out José Abreu with first base open and one out to open the series, Hinch called for the intentional walk to attempt to force Tony La Russa’s hand. Indeed he did, as La Russa took down Sheets for AJ Pollock and the righty-lefty matchup, and Pollock won it on the first pitch with a 12-hopper that bounded through the vacant right side of second and past the glove of a diving Jonathan Schoop for the go-ahead run. Eloyu Jimenéz then singled to right to score Abreu, and that’s how Liam Hendriks went from pitching in a tie game to having a save situation with a cushion.
Hendriks followed the lead of Kendall Graveman and Reynaldo López before him by throwing a perfect inning. Throw in an bases-loaded strikeout by Jimmy Lambert to end the sixth, and the White Sox bullpen retired the last 10 batters it faced to close this one out.
This game should’ve been a disaster based on the way it started. Kopech averaged just 92 mph on his fastball during the afternoon, and on top of that, he missed plenty early. His day opened with a four-pitch walk, and then Javier Baéz homered on a 1-0 count for a 2-0 lead.
Kopech’s fastball never came to him, and at one point La Russa, Ethan Katz and James Kruk came out to make sure he was OK. It’s hard to say was, but he persevered to get through five innings by leaning on his slider far more than usual. He threw breaking balls for 40 of his 82 pitches, although he only got whiffs on four of them.
It’s hard to tell whether this was the improved slider I’d hoped to see in the pregame post about him, or if this is just a function of the Tigers’ offense. Kopech never recorded a 1-2-3 inning, but he faced the minimum a couple of times because Reese McGuire nabbed Riley Greene at second to end the third, and then got Greene to ground into a double play to end the fifth. His readily apparent lack of stuff made it easier for La Russa to pull Kopech, and he went to Lambert after Kopech issued a one-out walk to Harold Castro in the sixth.
Kopech kept the White Sox in it long enough for the late-arriving offense to knot it up.
Through four innings, the White Sox hadn’t had a baserunner reach before two outs. Andrew Vaughn came the closest when he reached on a Harold Castro throwing error, but he was immediately thrown out by a flat-footed Jonathan Schoop from right field foul territory when he tried to advance to second on the play.
Runs didn’t materialize until the fifth, when Leury García led off with a single, moved to second on a groundout, then came around to score on a Yoán Moncada single to center two batters later.
In the sixth, Sheets had one of the year’s best plate appearances. He fell behind 0-2 to Hutchison, fouling back an 0-1 fastball he probably should’ve driven. He took a pitch out of the zone, then fouled off a couple pitches too close to take. Hutchison missed by more on a low changeup and a low slider to load the count, and when he came back with an inner-half fastball that was slightly lower than the one he fouled back, Sheets got every bit of it, launching it 422 feet out to right center to tie the game.
*García went 2-for-4 in place of Tim Anderson in the field, while Moncada was 1-for-4 from the leadoff spot.
*The White Sox remain five back of the Twins, who won, but are now just a half-game back of the Guardians, who lost.
*Anderson is the White Sox’s only All-Star for now, as Dylan Cease was snubbed.