The Good Guys unraveled in extras, and the playoffs are now a pipe dream
In a roller coaster of a game, the White Sox (76-72) fell short in the series opener against the Guardians (81-67). As a result, the Guardians have clinched the season series against the White Sox, as they are 10-7 vs. Chicago with two games remaining. That leaves the White Sox effectively six games behind Cleveland in the AL Central standings at the moment, rather than five.
The beginning of the game was ominous for White Sox starter Dylan Cease, who allowed a single and a walk to get things rolling. That brought up star third baseman and White Sox killer José Ramírez, who worked the count full before popping out on the infield fly rule. From there, a line out by Josh Naylor and a fly out by Oscar González ended Cleveland’s first-inning threat.
In the top of the second, Andrés Giménez hit a high fly ball that was placed perfectly down the left-field line. The ball fell in for a hit despite having an expected batting average of .060, and because left fielder AJ Pollock lost his footing while chasing the ball, a leadoff double turned triple. Cease got Owen Miller to ground out while keeping Giménez at third, but Austin Hedges hit a fly ball to right that drove in Giménez. The key pitch was a 3-2 slider that Cease located brilliantly, but Hedges got it deep enough to get the job done. Due to that sacrifice fly, the Guardians had a 1-0 lead, and Pollock’s flop turned out to be costly.
By the end of the second inning, Cease had thrown 50 pitches, and he appeared to be heading for a very short outing. Fortunately, he only needed nine pitches to get through the third and 13 for the fourth. Those quick innings helped Cease complete six innings despite a laborious first two frames. Cease also received defensive help from Josh Harrison, as the second baseman made a pair of phenomenal plays.
Cease’s final line was six innings, one run (earned), four hits, three walks, and three strikeouts in 107 pitches.
In the middle of the sixth, however, the White Sox still trailed by a score of 1-0. Up until that point, the White Sox’s biggest scoring threat was in the fifth, when a Seby Zavala single resulted in two runners being on base with two outs. Harrison nearly homered off Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, but he came up just short, flying out to the warning track in right.
Fortunes changed in the bottom of the sixth. Elvis Andrus beat out an infield single to open the inning, he stole second, and Yoán Moncada walked to prompt a pitching change. Reliever Nick Sandlin took over on the mound, and the first pitch he threw appeared to barely clip José Abreu to load the bases. Still with no outs, Eloy Jiménez lined a sharp single to center to tie the game.
The rally hit a speed bump when Andrew Vaughn struck out on a slider that missed the plate by plenty for out No. 1. That brought up Pollock, who hit a sharp grounder that appeared to be in 4-6-3 double play territory. The Guardians got the out at second, but the throw to first was way off the mark, two runs scored, and the White Sox had a 3-1 lead.
Jimmy Lambert relieved Cease to open the seventh, and it was far from his sharpest performance. The first two batters, Miller and Hedges, drew back-to-back walks to set Cleveland up to do some damage. Myles Straw lined out to deep right to temporarily halt Cleveland’s momentum, though Miller advanced to third on out. Aaron Bummer took over for Lambert, and Steven Kwan greeted the southpaw with his third hit of the day, and this time it was a single that drove in a run.
With the score 3-2, Amed Rosario hit a ground ball to first that could have been a double play if fielded perfectly, but the White Sox only got the out at second. At that point, it was 3-2, Sox, runners on the corners, two outs, Ramírez at the plate. On a 2-1 pitch, Lambert threw a slider right at the bottom of the zone, and Ramírez hit a ground ball in the hole between shortstop and third. Andrus got to it and made a long jump-throw to first, but Ramírez barely beat the throw. Just like that, the game was tied.
Naylor stepped up to the plate, and like Ramírez, he hit a ground ball between shortstop and third. This time, Andrus had to dive to get to the ball, which he did. However, Rosario, who started the play on second and was running aggressively, rounded third and headed home. Andrus made the throw to the plate, and Zavala made a nice tag, and Rosario was ruled out to end the inning.
Replays showed that Rosario was safe, but the Guardians had no recourse, as they had wasted their replay challenge on Andrus’ stolen base in the sixth. As a result, even though this call surely would have been reversed upon review, Rosario remained out, and the White Sox caught a big break.
Reynaldo López pitched a scoreless eighth, and Liam Hendriks pitched a scoreless ninth to put the White Sox in position for a walk-off win. However, the offense could not deliver, so the game headed into the 10th, when Kendall Graveman took over on the mound.
Rosario, the first batter of the inning, flew out in foul territory, but Kwan, the free base runner, advanced to third. The White Sox made a good decision to intentionally put Ramírez on base. After Graveman caught a break on the first pitch to Naylor, which was called a strike despite being off the plate, the slugger lined a go-ahead single to center. González then drove in Ramírez, who had made it to third on Naylor’s single, with a sacrifice fly, and it was a 5-3 game.
The White Sox had the very tall order of scoring two runs (quite difficult, even with one free base runner) against elite reliever Emmanuel Clase. Gavin Sheets pinch-hit for Harrison, and despite falling behind 0-2, he managed a lucky infield single to put runners on the corners. Andrus followed with a ground ball between shortstop and third. Rosario made a nice play to get the out at second as the free base runner (Zavala) scored, and Andrus reached first. Andrus, representing the potential tying run, stole his second base of the day as Moncada struck out for out No. 2.
Up to the plate stepped Abreu with Cleveland up, 5-4, with two outs, and a runner on second. Abreu fell behind 1-2, but against all odds, Clase hung a slider that Abreu lined into center field. The ball fell in for a hit, and Andrus raced home to score the tying run. Incredible.
Unfortunately, the positive vibes did not last long. Jake Diekman, the lone acquisition at the trade deadline this summer, entered the game to pitch the top of the 11th. Things did not go as planned for the left-handed reliever, who walked Miller to open the inning. Luke Maile popped out in foul territory for the first out, but Straw launched a double that scored a pair. Suddenly, the Guardians were in the driver’s seat again, as they had a 7-5 lead.
Cleveland was not done, either. Kwan hit an RBI single to pad the Guardians lead, and Rosario followed with a single of his own. Kwan stole third on a close play, and Ramírez extended Cleveland’s lead to four with a sacrifice fly. Oddly, Rosario followed Kwan’s lead by stealing third, and since Moncada failed to cover third in time, Zavala’s throw sailed into left, so Rosario scored. By the end of the inning, Cleveland had a 10-5 lead. The frame was a disaster befitting the 2022 White Sox season.
Yasmani Grandal, who pinch-hit for Adam Engel, struck out to open the bottom of the 11th. Pollock launched a two-run homer for his 13th dinger of the season, but the South Siders were not out of the woods yet. Luis Robert flew out to right for the second out, and although Zavala extended the game with a double, Leury García popped out to end it.
Again, the Guardians now officially hold the tiebreaker and a five-game lead with 14 games left. As a result, it will take nothing short of a miracle for the White Sox to make the playoffs, as the wild card is also a long shot. FanGraphs lists the White Sox as having a 6.2% chance to make the postseason (3.2% division win, 3% wild card).
The White Sox will have another game against Cleveland on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. Central. Lance Lynn and Triston McKenzie are the probable starting pitchers of that game. As usual, NBC Sports Chicago and WMVP 1000 AM will cover the game. We hope to see you then.