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A year from now, Yasmani Grandal may no longer have to contend with radical shifts when he’s standing at the plate.
By the way the sixth inning unfolded, he may grow to miss them.
With Luis Robert on third and one out with the game tied at 2, Grandal stepped into the box looking at three infielders on the right side and Robert keeping the third baseman honest.
Ryan Thompson threw a first-pitch sinker off the plate away. Under normal circumstances, Grandal’s eye probably wouldn’t have allowed him to offer. Under these circumstances, Thompson gave Grandal every reason to swing. The pitch was perfectly tailored for a ground ball at the shortstop, where nobody happened to be standing.
Grandal gladly obliged. In picture form:
If Major League Baseball eliminates the shift, I’ll mourn its passing for moments like these. They’re the baseball equivalent of:
Grandal’s most remarkable unremarkable grounder gave the White Sox a 3-2 lead, and that score stuck thanks to a less-than-ideal 7-8-9 combo of José Ruiz, Bennett Sousa, and Liam Hendriks For The Third Time In Four Days.
Ruiz and Sousa actually did their jobs perfectly, combining to strike out five of the six batters they faced. Hendriks wobbled on his bobblehead day, giving up two singles, a wild pitch and an intentional walk during an adventurous ninth inning, but he was able to strand the bases loaded.
The White Sox scattered shaky moments throughout the afternoon, but they’ve won all three series this season despite mistakes. Glass half empty, they’ll eventually have to pay the tab. Glass half full, they have room for improvement if regression strikes elsewhere.
For instance, the Rays scored their first run when Josh Harrison threw wide of first base to put runners on the corners. Randy Arozarena wanted to bail out the Sox with a delayed start to second after seeing the ball elude José Abreu, but while Abreu got the ball to Tim Anderson near the second base bag in plenty of time, Anderson came into the screen too hot. His momentum carried him away from the infield grass, and the runner on third captured his attention as well, so he wasn’t in a position to even try applying a tag with the ball when Arozarena fell down on the inside of the line. Arozarena was granted a reprieve, what should’ve been an inning-ending flyout turned into a sac fly, and the White Sox trailed 1-0 on an unearned run.
(The bottom of the sixth ended on a similar play when Leury García’s relay throw ended up well wide of Harrison at third. A favorable carom made Yandy Diaz an easy mark with an on-target throw home, which Harrison made in plenty of time.)
The White Sox also had to contend with a weak gap in their pitching staff after Michael Kopech completed five innings of one-run ball on 75 pitches. Tony La Russa pulled him for Reynaldo López, which I thought was better than having López try to clean up a Kopech mess when he’s doing it with a worse version of Kopech’s arsenal, but a clean inning didn’t do him any favors. The Rays ended up tying the game at 2 on his watch, but Grandal’s single allowed López to vulture the win.
The Sox also made their share of difference-making plays, which makes sense since they wouldn’t have won otherwise.
Abreu had the game’s biggest swing. In a weekend that has thus far seen several other fly balls die on the warning track, Abreu finally conquered the last 15 feet with a two-run shot off longtime AL Central rival Corey Kluber to give the Sox a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
Kopech was the game’s best pitcher, overcoming that early lack of support by becoming less reliant on it over the course of his five innings. He had 95 with movement as long as he needed to, and he threw his curveball with conviction to counter a lefty-heavy Tampa Bay lineup. He retired the last 10 batters he faced, and hopefully a sixth inning won’t be too much to ask from him if he looks this strong through 75 pitches next time out.
Reese McGuire made Sousa’s job a little easier. He snagged a strike three on a 3-2 fastball to Randy Arozarena in the sixth inning that was probably below the zone. Junior Valentine’s delayed strike call had Arozarena throwing his bat in the air in disgust, which earned an ejection. When Sousa worked the eighth inning, he faced the left-handed Josh Lowe instead with two outs and nobody on, and Sousa struck him out on three pitches.
And Hendriks made a tough winning far more manageable by erasing a lead runner that had advanced to second after a leadoff single and a wild pitch. He snagged Yandy Diaz’s comebacker, then made an on-target throw to third, cutting down pinch runner Kevin Kiermaier. Harrison did a nice job of meeting Kiermaier far in front of the bag to make a swim move impossible.
*Harrison also made a nice sliding pick on a bouncer to his left, so while he had the first-inning error on his tab, he did a couple of positive things to compensate.
*Leury García dodged an error because Harrison was able to recover his wild throw, but he went 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout, and might’ve cost himself an infield single by diving into first.
*The White Sox once again put the ball in play plenty, finishing with identical totals of walks (zero) and strikeouts (six) compared to Friday night.
*Hendriks’ first walk of the season was of the intentional variety, but Tony La Russa made the right call in issuing it after a 3-1 count to Ji-Man Choi. Hendriks’ unwillingness to walk anybody makes fastballs on three-ball counts predictable, including a Brett Phillips single on a full count the batter before that put runners on the corners. La Russa took his chances with Hendriks against Taylor Walls, and because Hendriks got to two strikes after two balls, the slider was still available, and it worked for a swinging final strike.