Given the quality of opponent and the compromised state of the White Sox's starter, a South Side sweep wasn't a particularly sound bet.
The White Sox did indeed lose this game, but you can't pin it on Hector Santiago. Pitching on three days' rest and a half-day of prep time for the scratched Chris Sale, he contributed a quality start against considerable odds -- especially after watching the way he stumbled out of the gate.
Early on, it looked like Santiago might not last three. He missed about three ticks off his fastball, he missed spots, and the two free baserunners he allowed (HBP, walk) came around to score a David Ortiz single. He'd walk another batter before getting out of the first with a pitch count of 31. Basically, he looked like a guy who wasn't running on a full tank of gas. That could have posed a problem for a short bullpen, but it would've been tough to blame Santiago.
He eliminated that concern when his arm came back to life. The Red Sox couldn't score on him again over the next five innings. His fastball found 93 and 94 more often, allowing him to strike out a season-high nine batters over six. A couple more walks came with it -- including two of the dreaded leadoff variety -- but he erased them with double plays by the next batter.
It would have been an impressive effort had he only made it through five, but registering a quality start given the burden he carried is a baseball kind of heroic.
The only problem -- Clay Buchholz was just a little more effective, and Ventura didn't deviate from the back-end-of-the-bullpen plan.
Buchholz improved to 7-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.73, but the White Sox made him earn both accomplishments. The Chicago lineup strung together some baserunners on a couple of occasions, but some good pitching, some bad BABIP, and lost risks on the basepaths cut the legs out from under their rallies.
For instance, the first inning had all of the above. Alejandro De Aza led off with a single, but was caught stealing. They could have used the baserunner when Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios walked to restart the threat. But Buchholz came back to wipe out Adam Dunn with a very good changeup, and Paul Konerko followed with a hard lineout to left to strand two.
The White Sox did manage to push across a run in the third, but they needed the Red Sox's help. Tyler Flowers reached on an infield single and moved to second on a De Aza walk. Ramireez seemed to hit a perfect double-play ball to short, but Stephen Drew gave Dustin Pedroia a bad feed, and they couldn't get Ramirez in time.
The same thing happened when Rios came to the plate, and the missed double plays allowed Flowers to score, cutting the Boston lead in half.
The White Sox wouldn't score again until Konerko's solo homer with two outs in the ninth, and by then, it was way too late, because Ventura's worst relievers couldn't steal him a few effective innings. Brian Omogrosso worked a scoreless seventh, but Ventura tried to steal a second inning out of him, and Omogrosso exited after two singles and a walk, all with one out.
Nate Jones came in and gave up a sac fly to make it 3-1, but with a chance to limit the damage to one run, Tyler Flowers let Jones' wrong-side-of-the-plate slider get past his backhand attempt for a passed ball, which allowed a second run to score. The ninth inning followed a similar script, although without the passed ball. An erratic Jones gave way to a bad-news Donnie Veal, and the Red Sox turned a pitchers' duel into a non-save situation.
You can question the way Ventura failed to switch to his better relievers when he saw that Santiago gave him a chance, but when it comes to fatigue -- and Jesse Crain and Matt Lindstrom have been in a lot of high-stress situations -- it's hard to make a clear-cut argument either way.
- Konerko finally looked like his old self at the plate, going 2-for-4 with all four balls pulled in the air to left -- lineout, line single, deep flyout, solo shot.
- Rios extended his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest by any AL hitter this season.
- Ramirez made a nice catch on a weak flare in shallow left field, first backpedaling, and then leaping to haul it in.
- Even though Buchholz isn't exactly quick to the plate, the Sox were 0-for-2 in stolen bases. Rios was thrown out to end the sixth.
- Veal was sent down to Charlotte after the game.