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Six years ago, the White Sox squandered a six-run lead in the ninth inning to the Kansas City Royals, and I had the fortune of missing it. A couple of friends stopped by late in the game to help install an air conditioner, and after we completed the task, we walked over the Polish beer garden, because the White Sox were winning 7-1 and they weren’t Sox fans. I only found out the White Sox lost when my dad texted me “I am embarrassed for the White Sox and their multi-million $ closer.”
Tonight, my cousin was in town for a work trip and paid a visit, so I missed chunks of tonight’s Sox game while showing him around, then relocating to a bar. But because he’s a Sox fan and a bartender granted our request to switch a TV from the NBA playoffs to the MLB Network, I ended up catching the White Sox blowing this six-run lead in equally spectacular fashion.
My reaction as captured by the headline was the same both times, mostly because after doing this for 16 years, I’ve conditioned myself to not let the White Sox ruin my evening. If they’ve failed in a way that generates leaguewide interest, they usually deserve it.
Here, the White Sox committed four errors, including two in the ninth inning. The first error was more goofy than consequential, as Tim Anderson was late to deciding to cut off AJ Pollock’s throw from right field and ended up deflecting it past everybody. Bases were sacrificed, but nobody was supposed to be out on the play. The second error hurt, as Yoán Moncada biffed an easy opportunity to trade a run for an out. Instead of two outs, nobody on and the White Sox leading 8-4, they had that four-run lead with one out and one on.
That one out made all the difference, because Liam Hendriks entered with two outs and gave up a bases-loading single and a grand slam to Josh Naylor that tied the game before he could finally close the barn door.
(When Tony La Russa called for Hendriks for the sixth time in eight games, it brought to mind Joe Maddon calling for Raisel Iglesias for the fourth time in fifth games before the save situation arrived, and the White Sox nearly making up their own six-run deficit in the ninth. While I normally have a sense of how often things happen mathematically, I’ve never looked up the success percentage of a panicked, sweaty call for a closer in the middle of an inning that’s unraveling. It’s probably successful 95 percent of the time, but it feels like something goes smoothly once every 10 tries.)
When Moncada came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, I had flashes of him joining Gavin Sheets in somebody immediately atoning for a mistake. In the first inning, Sheets dropped a routine fly ball and allowed an unearned run and many pitches to accumulate on Michael Kopech’s tab. In the bottom of the inning, he hit a three-run homer off Zach Plesac to give the White Sox a 4-1 lead, which is where the score stayed until the Sox added on in the seventh.
Instead, Nick Sandlin was intent on not giving White Sox batters anything to square up. It resulted in walks to Moncada, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal around jammed popouts by Tim Anderson and José Abreu.
The combination brought Adam Engel to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Given Sandlin’s unwillingness to miss over the plate, I kinda wanted Engel to take four pitches. Instead, he swung at the second one, and while he smashed a firm grounder to the left side, José Ramírez smothered it with a dive and made a throw across the diamond to keep the game tied.
The White Sox had an even better chance to win the 10th, responding to a single Cleveland tally with one of their own before the first out was made, courtesy of Emmanuel Clase’s poor decision to throw home on a perfectly placed Reese McGuire chopper. They had the bases loaded with one out and the tying run 90 feet away, but Yoán Moncada and José Abreu both grounded out.
So at that point, the Sox had used up all the goodwill anybody could offer them, and Naylor ended everybody’s misery by tagging a hanging Ryan Burr cutter for a three-run homer in the 11th that decided the game and made history along the way.
And on both of Naylor’s homers, I could only groan out a laugh, because there’s no way to blow a six-run lead in the ninth inning in a fashion that isn’t deserved, and I wasn’t the one who did anything wrong.
Whether it’s a fly ball to right field, a grounder to third, or a six-run lead in the late innings, the White Sox shook a lot of confidence in things fans should feel comfortable taking for granted. It’s not your fault.
*Kopech pitched six runnings and allowed just the one unearned run, so he lowered his ERA to 0.93. He also worked around a Tim Anderson throwing error in the fifth by stranding runners on the corners with one out.
*Pollock hit his first homer as a White Sox, a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning hat seemed to push the game out of reach.
*Kendall Graveman was again conspicuously absent, as he neither pitched ahead of Hendriks in the ninth, Reynaldo López in the 10th or Ryan Burr in the 11th. Tony La Russa implied he was unavailable.
*Joe Kelly pitched a scoreless seventh in his debut, stranding a pair of two-out singles.