The White Sox are in the middle of an eight-games-in-seven-days stretch. Robin Ventura's best two hitters are battling nagging injuries, and he's had to use his three best relievers an awful lot.
The last thing he needed was an 11-inning game.
Yet even though the game required Tyler Flowers to play first base, and later Adam LaRoche, resulting in the loss of their DH ... and even though Avisail Garcia was unavailable for a fifth straight game ... and even though Ventura avoided using David Robertson, Zach Duke or Jake Petricka until the very last inning ... the White Sox managed to outlast the American League's best team in Houston.
You can credit the bench and the bullpen's underbelly. Ventura turned to them early and leaned on them heavily, and they rewarded his faith. Among the reserve stars:
Gordon Beckham: He entered the game in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out, as A.J. Hinch pulled starter Lance McCullers for lefty Joe Thatcher. Beckham delivered a sac fly to put the Sox ahead 2-1.
Beckham broke in earlier than normal, but Gillaspie failed to glove a not-difficult Chris Carter grounder the inning before. It should have been the last out, but it ended up costing Carlos Rodon a run he didn't deserve, so the defensive upgrade was appreciated if nothing else. But Beckham delivered enough with the sac fly, and that move set up an even better at-bat in the eighth.
With Beckham leading off that inning and the Sox trailing 3-2, Hinch went to setup man Chad Qualls. But Beckham has been better against righties in two of the last three years, and he continued that trend by hitting the first pitch out to left for the most important homer a White Sox has ever hit off Qualls, bar none.
Geovany Soto: Soto had to enter the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement after Jose Abreu's right index finger acted up on him. With Gillaspie already out of the game, the most qualified first baseman besides the DH LaRoche was Flowers. So Flowers moved from behind the plate, Soto took his place, and Soto excelled both as a catcher and a No. 3 hitter the rest of the night.
At the plate, Soto drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then hit a go-ahead two-run double off Josh Fields in the 11th. And behind it, he thwarted Jonathan Villar's attempt at stealing second in the ninth inning, removing a potential winning run from the basepaths.
Daniel Webb: Despite the fact that the Sox were only trailing 3-2, Webb was the first man in after Carlos Rodon struck out Hank Conger to start the seventh. Webb ended up taking care of the rest of that inning, then pitched a scoreless eighth as well. He gave up a one-out double to Preston Tucker that inning, but Webb came back to strike out Evan Gattis and Chris Carter with some of the best sliders he's ever thrown.
Zach Putnam: Sneakily good for the Sox since a rough start (19 strikeouts over his last 13 innings), Putnam pitched the ninth of a tied game on the road. That would usually be Zach Duke's job, but Putnam ended up being good enough. He paid a lot of attention to the baserunners, giving Soto a chance to throw out Villar in the ninth (and Ramirez made a direct, firm tag as well). He might've paid a little too much attention to George Springer, as his walk to Jose Altuve put the winning run on second with one out. But that merely set up ...
Dan Jennings: ... who stranded both runners by getting Tucker to trigger the infield fly rule, then striking out Gattis to get it to the 11th. When the Sox scored three in the top of the inning, David Robertson took over from there and brushed off the two consecutive blown saves.
Though the second half of the game was unorthodox, the first half wasn't much more normal. I mean, the very first batter, Adam Eaton, took a Lance McCullers fastball to the knee, and it caromed off the patella and hit Conger in the cojones.
Hell, the Sox scored the first run when Ramirez came all the way around from second on ... a dropped third strike. Gillaspie swung through a Lance McCullers fastball that was so off-target that Conger couldn't glove it. It got past him and Gillaspie took off for first, getting far enough up the line that Conger's throw hit Gillaspie in the back. It bounced away, and Ramirez made it the other 90 feet for a 1-0 lead.
The rest of the game was wobbly from there.
The Astros tied it up in the fourth when Gattis singled with two outs, moved to second on a Flowers passed ball, then scored on the Gillaspie non-error error.
More terrible defense cost the Sox their second lead. They had a 2-1 edge in the sixth, when Jose Altuve led off with a line drive, then moved to third when Preston Tucker bounced a grounder over Abreu's head.
Rodon held the runners there for one out when he fielded Gattis' comebacker. His throw hit Gattis, but a borderline interference call on Gattis gave the Sox the out. Carter tied the game, though, with a sac fly to left, and Melky Cabrera's throw was errant enough to allow Tucker to advance.
Tucker then came home when the Sox botched a simple 3-1 play at first. Rodon won the footrace with Luis Valbuena, but Abreu's flip was higher than anticipated, causing Rodon to leave his feet. He came down behind the bag, and his attempt to touch it with his toe missed. The error on Abreu allowed another unearned run to score, and the Astros led 3-2.
Fortunately, Beckham's homer in the eighth got Rodon off the hook, because he pitched well. He set a career high with 6⅓ innings while issuing zero walks, and two of the three runs he allowed were unearned. He was also pretty efficient, needing just 92 pitches (McCullers, on the other hand, was lifted after throwing 89 over 4⅓ innings) despite the leaky defense. He allowed eight hits, but the majority of them were on the soft side.
*The Sox' defense started strong, with Melky Cabrera saving Rodon with a terrific throw to cut down Gattis in the first inning. Ramirez also made a nice play to his left.
*Ventura made the play of the night, though, when he caught Flowers over his shoulder after Flowers tumbled over the dugout railing pursuing a popup.
*McCullers plunked Eaton twice, which were Eaton's first two HBPs of the season. Also, Carlos Sanchez drew his first walk of the year, and Ramirez drew his first walk since April 19.
*Flowers had the roughest night of anybody. He suffered a cut on his nose after a direct hit on a foul tip pushed his mask back onto his face. He also flipped over the railing, and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Then again, his performance might've made it easier for Ventura to risk hitting a pitcher in his place by the 11th inning.