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The White Sox threw everything they had at the Guardians.
The problem is that everything the White Sox have to throw isn’t good — like their left-handed options in the bullpen, or their three limited/compromised center fielders. They also have a lot of baggage from a season’s worth of underachieving, and a first-time manager who was thrust into the role because the past-his-prime manager was put on a PUP list.
They left it all on the field, including their unmentionables. It was bad, then it was good, then it was bad, then it was good, and then they should’ve been humiliated. The 11th-inning collapse effectively sealed the White Sox’s fate as baseball’s worst second-place team, barring some kind of spectacular 11th-hour development. The standings say the Sox are five back with 14 games to play, but it’s six because Cleveland secured the season series with this victory, and thus the tiebreaker.
The game should’ve turned in the sixth, when the White Sox finally struck against Aaron Civale after getting shut out for five innings. The Guardians gave them plenty of help. Elvis Andrus started the rally, and he helped matters further when he stole second — not just because he was safe, but because Terry Francona burned a challenge thinking the call could be overturned, and while Yoán Moncada backfilled first base with a walk to render the stolen base moot, the consequences of the review surfaced an inning later.
Anyway, Francona lifted Civale after the walk for Nick Sandlin, who lost the lead in two pitches. His first pitch grazed José Abreu’s arm to load the bases, and his next pitch ended up in center field via an Eloy Jiménez single that tied the game.
Sandlin almost escaped without further damage when he struck out Andrew Vaughn on three pitches, then got AJ Pollock to hit a firm grounder to second. The play developed slowly, forcing Amed Rosario to rush the turn in hopes of beating the hustling Pollock to first. Pollock won on two counts, as he forced a throwing error that brought home a second run on the play.
It gave the Sox a 3-1 lead, and Pollock can say that he made up for a costly second-inning misplay. He tripped over his own feet running down Andres Gimenez’s blooper down the line, turning a double into a triple, and Gimenez ended up scoring on a sac fly for the only run off Dylan Cease.
But the game really turned in the seventh, when Miguel Cairo made a pair of questionable decisions.
First, despite the game state lining up for Reynaldo López-Kendall Graveman-Liam Hendriks over the final three innings, he went to Jimmy Lambert. The phrase “greased tee” came to mind, as he couldn’t find the release point on his fastball and walked the first two batters he faced. He got Myles Straw to fly out to right, which advanced the runner to third and put runners on the corners for Steven Kwan.
Cairo then felt compelled to go to Aaron Bummer for the matchup, even though he’s not typically successful with inherited runners. Bummer put a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate, and Kwan lined a single to center, narrowing the lead to one. Rosario grounded out into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, but it probably would’ve been easier if Cairo had first base open. With runners on the corners, Cairo let Bummer pitch to José Ramírez, and while he got a grounder to the left side, it was perfectly placed — out of the reach of a diving Yoán Moncada, and just far enough into the hole that an Andrus jump-throw couldn’t get him in time.
The tying run crossed the plate, and then Josh Naylor hit another grounder to that hole on the left side. In a replay of the Sox’s only loss in the Detroit series, Rosario didn’t realize that Andrus stopped the ball before it rolled into left field and blew through the stop sign. Andrus’s throw home was better than the one he made at Comerica Park, but it was still on the first-base side of the plate. Seby Zavala made his best effort at a swipe tag, and while it wasn’t in time, it was good enough for Shane Livensparger to miss the call — and Cleveland burned its challenge, so the play couldn’t be reviewed.
Alas, another decision Cairo made hurt the Sox in their chance to reclaim the lead. He swapped out Vaughn for Adam Engel, even though his defensive replacement had a sizable chance of coming to the plate once more. Vaughn’s spot in the lineup actually came to the plate twice more. Engel struck out in the eighth, and Yasmani Grandal struck out in the 11th.
Maybe Lambert would’ve made sense if one of the more trusted relievers was shown to be unavailable, but López pitched a scoreless eighth, Liam Hendriks a scoreless ninth, and then Kendall Graveman for the 10th. The last one was another questionable call, because the presence of the Manfred Man makes a strikeout-oriented pitcher far more important, which is why you saw Cairo use López for the ninth and Hendriks for the 10th in the two games that went to extras in Detroit.
Graveman lived up to his name by digging a hole in the 10th — a flyout put a runner on third, an intentional walk to Ramírez put runners on the corners, and then a grooved fastball ended up in a Josh Naylor RBI single. Worse yet, Ramírez took third on it, and scored on an Oscar Gonzalez sac fly that made it a 5-3 game.
Terry Francona seemed better situated for the 10th with his closer Emmanuel Clase, but the Sox foiled those best-laid plans. Gavin Sheets pinch-hit a chopper over the head of Clase that put runners on the corners, and an Andrus fielder’s choice at second brought home one run.
Andrus once again pulled off some proactive baserunning during Yoán Moncada’s strikeout by stealing second, and José Abreu came through with a single to right center on a 1-2 count that tied the game via Clase’s fourth blown save of the year.
Had Cairo saved Hendriks for extras, he might’ve been in a position to get a second inning out him. Instead, he turned to Jake Diekman for the 11th, and Diekman fell apart. He got Luke Maile to pop out with runners on the corners, but the first of three stolen bases took the double play out of order, and then Myles Straw delivered a two-run double that ripped open the scap. Kwan singled home Straw for the decisive run, but then they aggressively ran into two more runs, with the last one scoring because Diekman once again failed to check a runner at second, and Moncada wasn’t at third to receive Zavala’s throw.
A Pollock homer off Bryan Shaw gave the Sox a decent 11th-inning showing on the line score, but the tying run never came to the plate. The game ended with Leury García, whom Cairo has been admirably resistant to playing, popping out behind second base.
The first six innings were far calmer by comparison. Civale lulled the Sox into a bunch of ordinary outs to the left side of the infield, and while Cease was physically incapable of throwing a fastball below a hitter’s clavicle, his slidered his way into six innings of one-run ball, even though his early pitch counts made four innings look aspirational.
Cease’s peripherals aren’t impressive — 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K — but he lowered his ERA to 2.13 as he tried to scrounge up some Cy Young support to challenge Justin Verlander. Individual pursuits are about all the White Sox have left.
*Josh Harrison had a tremendous night in the field, twice robbing Rosario with spectacular plays. First, he made a charging, barehanded dive-and-flip to first that would’ve been far more impressive had White Sox fans not had Tadahito Iguchi’s more impressive play etched into their memoreis. Then he showed incredible closing speed on Rosario’s flare to the right side, picking the ball off the turf with a diving catch, and Iguchi didn’t make that kind of play that well.
*Vaughn also maxed out his range with a nice running catch in right, so he didn’t give Cairo reason for an early defensive hook.
*White Sox pitchers issued seven walks (one intentional). White Sox hitters drew one walk while striking out 10 times.
*Moncada made a nice catch by reaching over the rail on a foul pop-up, and Zavala completed a SHOTHO. Outside of the second and 11th innings, the defense was there.
*Bummer and Diekman combined to give up six hits and a walk over 1⅔ innings.