A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Lenience
Stop me if you've heard this one before: You've got a pitcher's duel, low-scoring. Everything seems to be working so quickly, and for some reason it's 7 p.m. and already the eighth inning.
It's tied for a while, and this tie feels eternal, but then there's some signature late-inning offense, and you inhale, and there's just so much excitement in the air after that rally.
It just seems as if a win is predestined, it's fate, it's written in the stars!
And then ... oh.
It seemed, for a while, that tonight might actually be the night.
With some early offense and what seemed to be a swiftly-moving pitcher's duel, tonight's game had eerily similar tones to the past two, but just had a different energy to it.
Could this be it? Would the White Sox finally break out of the September doldrums, and not lose their fifth straight game?
And then ... the return of Carlos Rodón, and the seventh inning turned everything on its upside, downside, backside, frontside.
So what happened?
Let's (reluctantly) break it down.
We might as well get that seventh inning out of the way
The White Sox seemed to have this game under lock for a long while.
(Some good things, in fact, happened. We'll get to that later.)
And then the seventh inning came along.
After being reactivated from a long stint on the injured list, Rodón inherited the bases loaded in his first relief appearance in five seasons, and his first appearance of any kind since August 3.
With two outs, and protecting a 4-1 lead, Cesar Hernández singled off Rodón, a flare just out of reach of second baseman Yolmer Sánchez, scoring Tyler Naquin and Mike Freeman and trimming the lead to 4-3.
Because baseball is just entropy at this point, José Ramírez, the instigator of Tuesday night's walk-off, doubled off Rodón, scoring Delino DeShields Jr. and Hernández, pushing Cleveland to a 5-4 lead.
Another re-activation off the injured list made a late-season debut tonight, none other than Aaron Bummer, coming off from a bicep injury. Bummer's return, in contrast to Rodón's, was much easier to watch.
Hitting 97 mph right on the edge of the plate once, Bummer ended his inning with a nice Austin Hedges strikeout, luring a gorgeous swinging strike on the slider. Should Bummer have come into the game instead of Rodón? Should Rodón have come in at all? What are we doing at this point, and when do we start worrying about punting games this late in the season?
Dallas Keuchel, a 2020 retrospect
In his last start of the regular season, Dallas Keuchel kept Cleveland hitters stifled early, by offering his signature menu of ground ball outs, with three punch outs sprinkled into the mix, once aided by the strike-stealing finesse of Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.
Coming into this game, Keuchel was second among AL leaders in ground ball percentage, at 54.2%. Keuchel has also a fantastic job of keeping the ball in the park, as he also leads the AL in HR/9, at 0.31.
Interestingly enough, he also had yet to give up an earned run in September, until tonight in the third inning, where Keuchel gave up a ground-rule double to Hernández, which scored Roberto Perez.
Perhaps one area of concern for Keuchel has been how he's dominant for the first few innings of a ballgame, but the sixth and beyond can be harrowing:
And tonight, he escaped the sixth inning unscathed!
Besides his command slipping in the third inning, where it seemed like there was a cascade of pitches outside the zone, Keuchel limited runners and kept the Sox in the game.
His 2020 ERA sits at 1.99, while his FIP is a blip higher at 3.08. In seven starts, Keuchel's road ERA is at 1.66.
Yolmer, he homered
If you had Sánchez taking Zach Plesac deep off a lollipop curveball on your 2020 bingo card, pat yourself on the back.
In the third inning, Yolmer took a hack on 0-1 and, whew.
Nomar, no less
The other White Sox offensive effort came at the hands of none other than Nomar Mazara, who came into this game going 6-for-38 (.158) with a homer, three RBIs and 15 strikeouts in his last 12 games.
In the seventh inning, Mazara attacked the first pitch and singled off Plesac to left field, scoring José Abreu, who Plesac had previously walked, along with scoring Eloy Jiménez. Mazara's two-RBI single put the Sox up, 4-1.
Some sundry observations
There are some concerning patterns: Shane Bieber didn't necessarily have his best stuff in last night's start. Plesac came into this game only issuing five walks for the entire year, and tonight, he issued two. Plesac began to show signs of faltering by not hitting his spots and offering some hittable pitches, but the White Sox offense still did not take advantage.
To add insult to injury, Jiménez was removed from the game with right foot soreness after hitting third base awkwardly on his sprint home to score on Mazara's single. He will be tested and re-evaluated on Friday.
With this loss, the White Sox have dropped seven out of their last nine. Is this really the same White Sox team that clinched a playoff spot by taking three out of four from the Minnesota Twins one week ago? While many White Sox fans pointed out it's O.K. for a team-wide slump, a game given away like this, as Frank Thomas said during the postgame show, can't happen during a pennant race.
The good news is that White Sox still have three games to figure things out before the postseason. The Cubs have seen some late-season woes of their own, so can the White Sox turn the tables for the last series of the season?
Tomorrow, which is, in fact, another day, Dylan Cease (5-3, 3.82 ERA) faces Yu Darvish (7-3, 2.22) in a 7:10 p.m. CT start at Guaranteed Rate Field.