With two outs in the eighth inning and the go-ahead run in scoring position, Robin Ventura had a choice to make:
- Let Scott Downs face Mike Moustakas with runners on second and first after an intentional walk.
- Bring in Maikel Cleto to face Salvador Perez instead.
Ventura chose the second option. Cleto got ahead of Perez with a fastball, then hit the wrong half of the plate with a slider. Perez kept the hands in and pulled it down the third-base line for a double, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Baseball Twitter -- especially the Kansas City side of it -- wondered why Ventura would take on Perez instead of a same-handed matchup against Moustakas, who is 0-for-2014. That's one call. But then again, the Royals had their runner in scoring position because Downs faltered on another lefty-lefty matchup, as he elevated a 2-2 sinker that resulted in an Alex Gordon double.
Perez is better than Moustakas, but Cleto has looked better than Downs so far. In a season like this -- especially early in a season like this -- there's a lot less to go by. The bullpen's early struggles have Ventura feeling around like he just got sand thrown in his eyes, and this is still the part of the movie where he's getting kicked in the face.
A clearer picture is starting to emerge with the lineup. We talked earlier today about moving Marcus Semien down in the order until he shores up his approach. He batted second again today, and the game keeps demanding him to be better than he currently is.
In the ninth inning, pinch-hitting Adam Dunn walked. He was replaced by Leury Garcia, who stole second on a 3-2 splitter in the dirt Adam Eaton chased. That brought Semien to the plate, and Holland overmatched him for an easy strikeout. Jose Abreu grounded out to third, and that sealed the White Sox's third straight loss.
Semien also couldn't come through earlier in the game. Back in the fifth inning, with the Sox trailing 2-1 and a runner on third, Bruce Chen gave Semien a hittable fastball up and on the inner half. Semien justmissedit, resulting in a popup to left that was too shallow to score the tying run.
This game offered a higher supply of moral victories, such as:
John Danks: He threw 39 pitches through three hitless inning, then fell into a relapse in the fourth. Well-placed singles knocked him off his game to the point that he walked in a run, but allowing just two runs over a 38-pitch inning after failed to retire any of the first six batters qualifies as "damage control" (though a weird mixup at third base between Eric Hosmer and third-base coach Dale Sveum helped).
He also gave back the run the Sox scored when Norichika Aoki led off with a double, stole third on a strikeout and scored on a sac fly, but he managed to throw seven effective innings and 115 pitches when six didn't look like a certainty.
The offense: At least after Chen, who stymied the Sox for 6⅓ innings (one run, six hits, no walks, seven strikeouts).
The Sox protected Danks' perfect record against Kansas City with a two-run eighth. Semien took a hanging Wade Davis slider to left for a leadoff single, followed by a Jose Abreu HBP and a deserving walk for Dayan Viciedo. Conor Gillaspie rifled a single to center to tie the game, and a Paul Konerko sac fly tied it up.
The Sox just needed one more hit, and they couldn't quite do it in either of the last two innings. Alejandro De Aza struck out for the second out, and Alexei Ramirez's well-struck fly to right just didn't have enough to get over Aoki's head, cutting the rally off at two runs. The preseason prediction was that the White Sox would be better, but not quite good enough, and games like these certainly bear that out early on.
*Abreu committed his second error off the season when he dropped a catchable throw by Ramirez on a stretch, which extended the inning ... by one whole pitch, fortunately.
*Nieto's quest for his first major-league hit was foiled when his comebacker smash hit Aaron Crow's leg and bounced toward first. Crow had a painfully easy 1-3 putout.
*However, Nieto had his first big-league moment in the eighth. Downs pitched around Billy Butler with one out, and Ned Yost sent in Jarrod Dyson to run. Dyson tested the rookie, and Nieto gunned him down with a beautiful sidearmed throw. When Gordon doubled afterward, it looked like Nieto saved the game. Perez's subsequent double robbed Nieto of a nice storyline.