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For a second straight night, the White Sox spent the first two-thirds of the game showing why this season has been so disappointing, only to pull off another stunning late-inning rally that gives everybody a new lease on life.
Unlike Monday, when the White Sox scored all four of their runs in the eighth inning to turn a two-run deficit into a two-run lead, they spread out their late surge over two innings. Like Monday, Yoán Moncada still found a way to finish it off.
After Eloy Jiménez started the eighth with a leadoff walk against Hector Neris and José Abreu singled through the left side, Yasmani Grandal took the air out of Guaranteed Rate Field with a slow-developing, still-successful 3-6-1 double play. That’s when Moncada resuscitated the Sox by muscling a second-pitch fastball into center field. It wasn’t as sure as his go-ahead hit the night before, but although it had some hang time, it still fell in front of Mauricio Dubón to put the Sox ahead 4-3.
Liam Hendriks offered no quarter, retiring the side in order and punctuating the save with a strikeout of Yordan Alvarez.
Moncada finished what the White Sox started the inning before. Just when it looked like Justin Verlander could claim the upper hand in the highly touted duel against Dylan Cease, both came away with no-decisions.
It started ignominiously, as Josh Harrison cost the Sox their first extra-base hit on his wall ball to left because he forgot to step on the bag rounding first, forcing him to sheepishly retreat. Fortunately, Seby Zavala muted the effects by drawing the Sox’s first walk of the evening, even after falling behind 1-2.
Lenyn Sosa’s spot was due, but Tony La Russa tapped Gavin Sheets for the matchup advantage. Sheets also fell behind 1-2, but when Verlander tried to bury a slider down and in, he only accomplished “in.” Sheets was ready for it, and he rifled it into the right-field corner, scoring both Harrison and Zavala. Better yet, he took third when the throw in missed the cutoff man.
Alas, Verlander turned to his high-90s emergency fastball to strike out AJ Pollock, and then he capitalized on a favorable count by getting Andrew Vaughn to roll over a slider to short.
Still, a stout White Sox bullpen allowed the offense all the time it needed.
Tony La Russa didn’t take the surest path, although the debatable choices can be called calculated risks. With the White Sox having won four in a row and needing high-leverage guys night after night, he didn’t force his winning bullpen into the game before it was necessary. When the Sox trailed 3-1 entering the sixth, he used José Ruiz. When Ruiz pitched around a two-out double to preserve the margin, La Russa turned to Vince Velasquez in his first appearance since the IL. After Velasquez stranded two in a scoreless inning, he turned to Jimmy Lambert, who pitched around a two-out single with more great stuff.
La Russa gambled and won, for when the Sox tied the game in the eighth he had all of his best options available for the ninth and 10th innings. It turns out he only needed to cover the former.
Up until the seventh inning, the White Sox used whatever national audience the pitching matchup drew to inform everybody why they aren’t leading the Central. Their first seven hits were singles, including four in the second inning that only amounted to one run. Cease’s streak of 14 consecutive starts with two or fewer earned runs evaporated when Vaughn failed to catch Alex Bregman’s two-out drive on the right-field warning track.
Cease didn’t pitch all that well himself. The Astros tagged him for six hits, five for extra bases, including a Jose Altuve solo shot in the fifth that made it 3-1. He also walked three batters while striking out only four, which was to be expected when facing the Astros. He had the tendency to leave breaking balls up and high fastballs down, and some of it seemed attributable to adrenaline — not necessarily from the pregame hype, but due to the one-run deficit against the Cy Young favorite.
Verlander came away with the edge — his ERA only rose to 1.95, while Cease’s is 2.09 — but this game won’t decide the award. But with Cleveland losing and the White Sox closing the gap to 1, it does make a key dent in the more important race.
*Cease committed an intentional balk in the fifth inning, dropping the ball in order to move Alex Bregman to third base after his two-out double. Bregman was standing on second during Kyle Tucker’s go-ahead double in the third inning.
*That Tucker double was the Astros’ only hit in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, while the White Sox went 4-for-10.
*Abreu had three hits to raise his average to .307.
*The White Sox have won both games they’ve seen Verlander, which is the first time they’ve strung together consecutive wins in such games since 2013. If he still wins the Cy, at least the offense can say they tried to stop it.