After everything that transpired tonight, it would’ve been too easy if the White Sox could literally walk off the Twins.
They had to settle for running like hell, but all’s well that ends well.
With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, José Abreu appeared to take a Jorge López pitch off the hand to bring home the winning run. While it would’ve been super-satisfying considering López hit Andrew Vaughn on the shoulder with his previous pitch — not to mention his reaction to Vaughn’s displeasure at a second near-beaning in recent weeks, which caused the White Sox’s bench to empty — a replay showed the pitch hit the knob of the bat for strike one.
The White Sox couldn’t reset the fireworks, but everything else had to be restored. Abreu then fouled off an inside-corner sinker for strike two. López’s third sinker was the most hittable of the bunch, but Abreu could only hit a grounder up the middle, which is how the Twins positioned him. Had López let the ball go through, it would’ve been an easy inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, and the game would’ve proceeded to the 10th inning.
López did not let the ball go through. Instead, he deflected it to Nick Gordon’s right, and while he still gloved it and completed the 4-6 part of the equation, Abreu’s hustle reflected the stakes of the play, and Carlos Correa had no chance at the “3” on the turn. Romy González scored a second time, the fireworks went off a second time, and the White Sox are back to .500, just one game back of the Twins and three behind the Guardians.
The White Sox didn’t deserve to win this game by their quality of play, especially if you’re inclined to judge Miguel Cairo’s opener decision harshly.
While Davis Martin was the original starter, Cairo switched to Joe Kelly, hoping Martin would again shine as the evening’s second/bulk pitcher as he did back in June.
Kelly didn’t respond well to the task, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks during a 34-pitch first, although White Sox defense surrendered extra bases that changed the complexion of the inning. For instance, Leury García played a Luis Arraez’s leadoff single into a double, and Yasmani Grandal wasn’t prepared for a Kelly curveball in the dirt that opened up first base when runners were on first and second. In both cases, Kelly backfilled first base with a walk, and maybe he doesn’t if the glovework is better. Then again, Kelly entered this game with a 7.07 ERA, which basically means it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Martin followed with five shutout innings in relief, and the White Sox were tied at 2 through six. If you think Martin could’ve done that regardless, then the opener was a waste of time. If you think Martin benefited from starting his evening against the bottom of the Twins order, then the Sox passed the test.
(One additional benefit: When the game advanced into high-leverage innings late, Cairo couldn’t consider Kelly for that work even if he wanted to. And maybe he’d want to, because Kendall Graveman was unavailable after pitching in the previous two games, so maybe Kelly screws up worse later than he did earlier.)
The White Sox clawed back into the game thanks to Grandal, and on both ends of the exit velocity spectrum.
In the fourth inning, the White Sox were on the verge of wasting a Vaughn leadoff double when Grandal shanked a single into left center for the Sox’s first run. It was a 51.4 mph blooper that landed on the infield dirt, only a single because Gio Urshela was playing in for some reason and he couldn’t get back in time. Grandal then came around to score three two-out batters later, with AJ Pollock walking, Leury García singling through the right side, and Josh Harrison successfully selling his own run-scoring HBP on his elbow.
(Like the up-and-in pitch to Abreu, it could’ve been called back. If it clipped Harrison’s armor — and the ball’s spin didn’t change — he still didn’t make an effort to get out of the way until the ball was in Gary Sánchez’s mitt.)
The call stood, and the game remained scoreless until the eighth, when more shoddy Sox defense complicated things, and Grandal righted them.
In the top of the eighth, Josh Harrison’s off-balance throw on Max Kepler’s grounder to the left side went into the Twins’ dugout, putting the leadoff runner on second instead of first. A single and a 4-3 later, the Twins regained the lead, and González’s shot at getting the runner at home evaporated when he bobbled the ball.
Here’s where Grandal stepped up. Billy Hamilton entered the game against Jimmy Lambert and was itching to run, but his attempts to steal second were disrupted by a foul ball and the grounder to second. His break for third wasn’t disrupted, and while he was originally ruled safe, a replay showed that his swim move didn’t work on Harrison, and the challenge eliminated the threat.
In the bottom of the eighth, Grandal was either ready for Caleb Thielbar’s first-pitch curveball, or he had enough time to readjust. It came in at 73 mph, and while Grandal had to break his swing into two parts in order to stay back, he still put good wood on it. It only left his bat at 95 mph, but it carried 345 feet in the most useful direction, down the left field line. It ended up in the White Sox bullpen, and Grandal’s first right-handed homer (and first home homer) of the season tied the game at 3.
Cairo then called for Liam Hendriks to preserve the tie for the bottom of the ninth, which he did around a one-out single. López couldn’t do the same in the bottom of the inning. He started by hanging a slider that González singled to left, and then Elvis Andrus inside-outed a two-strike pitch into right field. López then threw a first-pitch sinker off Vaughn’s shoulder, and that set the stage for three kinds of pyrotechnics over the course of one batter.
*Miguel Cairo was the lone person ejected in the gathering at the mound in the ninth inning. He didn’t seem to get especially physical, but he was in the middle of it, and Rocco Baldelli appeared somewhat surprised by Cairo’s furor.
*Martin as the second pitcher this year: 15⅓ IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 11 K
*Eloy Jiménez preceded Grandal’s game-tying homer with a pinch-hitting appearance for Gavin Sheets against the lefty Thielbar, but he grounded out to third and started hobbling more than halfway down the line.
*Andrus started a rare 6-3-6 double play by making a runner head back to first, but throwing to the bag in time to get the force before returning to second in time to apply the tag from Andrew Vaughn’s throw.