Given the amount of traffic the White Sox put on the basepaths tonight, they should have won this game going away.
Instead, they needed a couple of late-inning escapes by the bullpen to preserve the slimmest of margin, but the victory counts all the same. Tyler Flowers put the Sox ahead in the sixth with an RBI double, and a Ronald Belisario-led bullpen made the lead hold up.
Those were your two players of the game right there. Flowers went 3-for-3 and drove in the last two White Sox runs. The first came on a bases-loaded HBP in the third inning, and the second was via a double to the left-center gap to drive in Alejandro De Aza, who tripled with one out.
One day after the White Sox bullpen covered four innings perfectly, they handled three ... well enough, anyway. Javy Guerra was a non-factor, allowing a pair of singles to start the seventh before Robin Ventura called for Ronald Belisario to clean up the mess. He rose to the challenge. The Astros gave him a foothold with an intentional bunt that put two runners into scoring position, but he recorded the other two outs without a run crossing the plate. He threw a hellacious 97-mph sinker on the inside corner to get Jose Altuve swinging, and then after an intentional walk, he retired George Springer on a weak grounder to third to end the inning.
Ventura left him in for the eighth, and after Alejandro De Aza made a great running catch to start the eighth, Belisario did the rest, striking out Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez to get the game to the ninth. Jake Petricka started it, but alternated baserunners (walk, infield single) with outs (popout, another big strikeout of Altuve) to bring Jason Castro to the plate with two outs.
Ventura didn't stick with Petricka, instead summoning Zach Putnam with the goal of his second save in as many nights. He started Castro with a beautiful inside-corner fastball, then had him flailing at three splitters in the dirt, and barely touching two of them. That set up the high fastball, and Putnam executed it perfectly for the swinging strikeout.
It shouldn't have been a white-knuckled ending, because the White Sox put Dallas Keuchel through an arduous five innings. While they posted a whopping 15 baserunners (12 hits, two walks, one HBP), they could only scratch across four runs -- and they needed the Astros' help for half of them.
The Sox scored first in the second inning when Marwin Gonzalez bounced his throw past Singleton on Adam Eaton's infield single to score De Aza. Alexei Ramirez followed with a harder-hit ball that deflected off Keuchel, but right to Gonzalez, who made that play to end the inning.
They stretched the lead to 3-0 in the third. Dayan Viciedo singled and Paul Konerko walked with one out, and Conor Gillaspie singled through the middle to score Viciedo. After a Gordon Beckham HBP was reversed and he later struck out (more on that later), De Aza walked to extend the inning, and Flowers let a slider clip his leg to make it 3-0.
Hector Noesi couldn't hold that lead, in what a typical Noesi start -- ultra-efficient early on, then big problems in the middle innings. The Astros put a dent in the lead when George Springer crushed a 415-foot opposite-field homer to start the fourth. An inning later, two singles, a wild pitch and an Altuve double tied the game in a flash.
That put both starters back in no-decision territory, but they resumed their old roles in the bottom of the fifth, when De Aza tripled to the corner in right and scored on Flowers' double. Noesi pitched around a leadoff walk in the sixth, and he emerged with a quality start and his fourth win of the season.
It should be said beyond a bullet point that this was the worst-umpired game of the year. Three separate calls were overturned, including Beckham's third inning "HBP." which was initially ruled a plain ol' ball in the dirt by Brian O'Nora, then reversed after an umpire confab, then reversed again when Bo Porter challenged it.
That challenge nearly took four minutes, and that doesn't count Beckham and Ventura lobbying for the initial conversation. The other two reviews were shorter, because the blown calls were even more obvious. Worse yet, they both happened in the fourth inning, giving them three mistakes over a two-inning span.
This might go down as the worst "out" call of the year, at least for the White Sox.
Alexei Ramirez was originally called out here. Replay has its flaws, but... http://t.co/O9BqisuyQL— South Side Sox (@SouthSideSox) July 20, 2014
Thankfully, a challenge corrected that. Porter then went 2-for-2 by asking for a review of an easy forceout at second that wasn't. Throw in an awful called strike three on Eaton that killed the third, and the crew only needed two innings to qualify for a rough night overall.
*De Aza doubled his season hit total against lefties by going 2-for-3 with a walk. Gillaspie's RBI single was also an unusual outcome due to handedness, and Eaton contributed three singles from the leadoff spot.
*Beckham needed that HBP, as he's now 5-for-51 in July after an 0-for-4 night. He and Paul Konerko were the only Sox to go hitless. Chip off the old block and whatnot.