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When rounding up the White Sox’s best wins of the season, it’s alarming to see how many of them popped up after Tony La Russa departed the team in late August.
If you were to evaluate the bulk of the White Sox’s 81 victories like you would diamonds, the jaundice and speckles could be spotted without a loupe. Sturdy, well-rounded winners were so few and far between that reliever availability became a detailed discussion way too early in the season, and respites were few and far between.
The Sox indeed played their best ball in the first weeks after Miguel Cairo took over, and we’ll always be left to wonder whether the defibrillation would’ve worked better in June than September, well before the math became way too daunting.
Regardless, since we looked at the White Sox’s worst losses of the season, we should complete the exercise by sizing up their best wins.
No. 10: White Sox 4, Twins 3 on Sept. 2
Most of the White Sox’s close-and-late victories were due to their own shabby play, and this one was no exception. Using Joe Kelly as the opener resulted in a 34-pitch first inning, and multiple misplays early and late contributed to the Twins’ scoring innings.
The ninth inning redeemed it, with benches clearing after an upper-body HBP to Andrew Vaughn, an apparent walk-off HBP (with fireworks) for José Abreu that was called back when reviews showed the pitch hit the knob of the bat, followed by Jorge Lopez deflecting a sure-fire double-play ball for a game-winning fielder’s choice instead.
The White Sox opened this game with a first-pitch HBP and assumed control of the game from there. Davis Martin picked up his first career win, Yoán Moncada had five hits and five RBIs, José Abreu reached base five times when he wasn’t building a fort in the dugout, and the Sox completed a sweep while reaching double digits in runs for just the second time in 61 games. The White Sox had very few of these games, so we may as well throw one on here to encourage them.
Tim Anderson’s beef with Josh Donaldson felt like it was part of a different year. That’s partially because it occurred so early in a season that was forever frustrating, but it’s also because Anderson stopped resembling his best self by Memorial Day. Here, Anderson silenced the harsh crowd at Yankee Stadium with a three-run homer that put the game away.
Had the White Sox made the postseason, this win probably would’ve had more of a signature. As it actually happened, Anderson only hit one homer over the remaining four months of the season, with a groin injury and hand ligament tear limiting him to 39 games and a .576 OPS, so it ended up disconnected from the prevailing rhythm of the season.
The White Sox hadn’t saddled Justin Verlander with a loss since 2014, but his 13-game undefeated streak came to a shocking end. The Sox thumped him for seven runs (four earned) on nine hits over 3⅔ innings. On the other side, Johnny Cueto threw seven shutout innings as the Sox successfully erased the aftertaste from a more characteristic 13-3 loss the day before.
Did you know the White Sox went 16-16 against the American League’s postseason teams that weren’t the Guardians? Sure, with a -47 run differential, but their ability to hang with the league’s better teams, only to face-plant against the Diamondbacks of the world, added a frustrating element to the season.
Companion game: White Sox 4, Astros 3 on Aug. 16. The Astros went 14-5 over Verlander’s last 19 starts of the 2022 regular season. Two of those losses were to the White Sox, with Gavin Sheets delivering a game-tying two-run pinch-hit double off Verlander in the seventh, followed by a Yoán Moncada two-out go-ahead single in the eighth.
A classic slobberknocker at Guaranteed Rate Field that was tied five different times in regulation before the White Sox walked it off in extras. It especially resonated because the Sox entered this one 0-5 against the Twins. This one also represents the start of the Twins’ slow slide into the sea, because they could’ve extended their lead in the AL Central to a season-high 5½ games. Instead, they remained stalled at 4½ games, and they only lost ground from there. If only the Twins were the AL Central team to beat.
As for the Sox, this one gets docked points because Leury García earned the walk-off with a single through a drawn-in infield, and who knows how many extra plate appearances that earned him.
The White Sox closed out the first half on a high note, taking three of four at Target Field while outscoring the Twins 32-10, with the lone loss the Sox Machine/FromThe108 Road Trip. The defense was fantastic, Luis Robert looked in command of all his tools, and Dylan Cease threw one of his best starts ever, although he’d find a way to top it.
This one had the elements of the No. 7 game — an embarrassing loss the night before, an unlikely victory over a Cy Young winner due in large part to Cueto’s brilliance — except it came against their direct rival. It helped the White Sox pull within 2½ games, except then they lost seven of their next eight to the Royals, Orioles and Diamondbacks.
The White Sox fell behind 4-0 after three innings while their first seven hitters struck out against Luis Castillo, putting the Mariners on a course to an eighth straight victory. A two-run Eloy Jiménez homer started a string of six straight Chicago runs, and while the front end of the bullpen coughed up that lead, productive plate appearances up and down the lineup restored it. The Mariners awarded the Sox extra outs, and the Sox capitalized on those opportunities by going 3-for-8 with two sac flies with a runner in scoring position. It was another one of those total team wins during the brief resurgence under Cairo.
Three days later, the White Sox offense woke up after eight shutout innings by posting five runs over the course of their last two outs. Just like the previous game on this list, Jiménez powered the Sox onto the board with a homer, starting the process of overcoming a 98.9 percent win probability for Oakland.
It took until September for the White Sox to score double digits at home, although that was facilitated by Rocco Baldelli’s strangely cynical managing of this game (pulling regulars after four innings, using a position player as his third pitcher of the game).
However, this one is more notable for Dylan Cease coming within one out of the White Sox’s 21st no-hitter in franchise history. At a couple of points over the first five months of what is assuredly a Cy Young finalist season, I found myself writing that we’d never seen Cease pitch better. Now I’m going to have to be a lot more judicious with that phrase.
I’m also cautious with saying that it won’t be the last time Cease will have a chance to complete a no-hitter. No-hitters are rare and a bunch of better pitchers have never thrown one, so this might’ve been Cease’s only shot at one. I’m glad he savored it …
… and I’m glad he tried to take the most direct path to it, even if he ultimately came up one out short.