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For those wondering why Mark Payton wasn’t a better option than a one-armed Luis Robert during critical games in September, today’s game didn’t provide any answers, but it did reinforce the validity of the question.
Making only his second start with the White Sox and batting second, Payton notched two hits and scored two runs, including the game-winning run after a costly error. The Sox were able to end an eight-game losing streak, avoid a sweep in Minnesota, and regain sole possession of second place, for whatever that’s worth.
Miguel Cairo allowed the lefty Payton to face the left-handed Caleb Thielbar to open the inning, and he rewarded Cairo’s faith with a 12-pitch at-bat after falling behind 1-2. The at-bat appeared destined for “valiant effort” territory when he popped up a high slider into shallow right field, but Nick Gordon flat-out muffed the catch, with Payton running hard enough on an otherwise routine play to make it to second without a throw.
It’s not like Payton was gunning it out of the box, but his 75-percent hustle kept the Twins honest, and that extra 90 feet counted, because he wouldn’t have needed a hit to score. He advanced to third on a wild pitch, and while José Abreu’s deep drive to right ended up clearing the head of Matt Wallner in right, Payton would’ve scored easily even if Vaughn caught it.
The lead allowed Cairo to use the Plan A bullpen the rest of the way, they executed. Kendall Graveman recorded two groundouts and a strikeout, and Liam Hendriks struck out two and worked around a two-out walk for his 34th save.
It was the second time Payton put the Sox ahead, and he was involved in all three of the Sox’s scoring innings. In the sixth, he led off with a single off Griffin Jax, moved to second on José Abreu’s single, then scored after a Gavin Sheets productive out and an Andrew Vaughn sac fly.
Alas, Jimmy Lambert became the fourth consecutive White Sox reliever to walk the first batter he faced, and after Gary Sanchez turned into Billy Hamilton at first base, the Twins didn’t need another hit. Hamilton stole second, stole third, and scored on Ryan Jeffers’ squeeze bunt that locked up a Sox first baseman for teh second straight day. Then again, Vaughn might’ve had a throw to first were Aaron Bummer not in his way, covering the same bag Romy González was getting to.
It was turnabout for the third inning, in which the Sox answered two Minnesota runs in the bottom of the first. Josh Harrison led off with a single, then came around to score from first when Wallner came up empty on his diving attempt on González’s liner. Joe McEwing might’ve been better off holding him with no outs, because Harrison needed an off-target relay throw home to score, but González had his first career triple, and Payton knocked in González with his first Sox hit for his first Sox RBI.
That was enough to get Lucas Giolito off the hook. Giolito weathered four hits over five batters in the first, including a Gordon double with teh bases loaded that gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead. He posted zeroes the rest of the way, even if he had to labor in doing so, throwing 93 pitches over five innings. He was briefly in line for the win after Vaughn’s go-ahead sac fly, but Reynaldo López ended up getting the W with his scoreless seventh inning.
*Josh Harrison committed an error when he boxed Jose Miranda’s routine grounder to the left side, but he made up for it with a lunging stop on Carlos Correa’s grounder to end the inning with only three extra pitches thrown.
*Vaughn helped out Giolito with a leaping grab on a Gordon liner in the third, and while he didn’t immediately realize an out was available to second, his throw beat Luis Arraez back to the bag for a 3-6 double play.