For five innings, this game had all the makings of a classic White Sox offense no-show. However, the Sox managed to buck that trend behind big hits from Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera to pull out a win for Carlos Rodon and beat the Astros for a second straight day.
Rodon struggled with efficiency early on, as Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis were able to take him into deep at-bats in the first inning. Gattis eventually fought a single through the right side, and Preston Tucker followed that up with a four-pitch walk. That brought Chris Carter to the plate, who smoked a less-than-sharp 2-1 fastball on the outer half to left field. Fortunately, Melky Cabrera was able to bail out Rodon with a nice, if awkward-looking, diving catch.
After a rocky initial frame, Rodon looked a bit better in a 1-2-3 second inning, as he struck out Carlos Correa and Luis Valbuena. Though the damage wasn't done on the scoreboard, the contact-averse Astros manged to balloon Rodon's pitch count to 42 after two innings with a whopping 18 foul balls.
The White Sox got things cooking on their end in the second inning after going out in order in the first. Dallas Keuchel started off the frame by allowing a couple of smoked singles to Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto, both on extremely poorly located belt-high fastballs on the outer half. That brought Melky Cabrera to the plate, who started off the at-bat with an ill-advised and ill-executed bunt attempt foul. Fortunately, Melky swung away after that, and he smoked a changeup down and out of the zone over Valbuena's head at third. It was hit too hard to score Garcia from second, so the White Sox had the bases loaded with no one out.
Gordon Beckham was the next man up, and he's been no stranger to succeeding in RBI situations this season. Unfortunately, he popped a shallow fly ball to Jake Marisnick in center that couldn't get Garcia home. Keuchel then got Tyler Flowers to chase a 1-2 slider that bounced in front of Hank Conger for the second out. Emilio Bonifacio followed that poor effort by smacking the first pitch he saw for a grounder right at Valbuena for an inning-ending fielder's choice. The understandably frustrated U.S. Cellular Field crowd booed the uninspiring effort from the bottom of the order.
Unable to capitalize on the early opportunity, the reeling White Sox lineup hurried to consult its trusty 2015 Offensive Strategy Handbook and quickly shifted into nap formation. Keuchel got a lot more comfortable having dodged a bullet, and he fed the White Sox his usual diet of strikeouts and weak grounders. He retired ten hitters in a row before finally yielding a one-out walk to Tyler Flowers in the fifth that ultimately bore no fruit.
Meanwhile, Rodon got himself in trouble again in the fourth inning by allowing a leadoff single to Tucker and beaning Carter. With runners on first and second and no one out, Correa absolutely smoked a liner to the left side, but he was robbed by Gordon Beckham on a spectacular diving catch. Rather than building on the bailout from his third baseman, Rodon compounded the problem by throwing a seven-pitch walk to Hank Conger. With the bases now loaded, he fell behind Valbuena 3-1 and things were looking grim. The count essentially forced Rodon to throw a barrage of hittable strikes, but Valbuena could do nothing but foul them off. Finally, Rodon reached back and blew him away with a 96 mph fastball right down the middle on the tenth pitch of the at-bat. Jake Marisnick weakly tapped one to short to end the threat on Carlos' 88th pitch.
Rodon rebounded somewhat from that Santiagan efficiency by getting through the next two innings in just 27 pitches, but the damage to his pitch count had already been done. He had to exit the game after just six innings despite a stellar line: 6 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 K. Though it wasn't a commanding performance, Rodon battled hard and showed a lot of guts and determination in escaping unscathed.
After Rodon departed, the Sox offense finally showed more signs of life in the bottom of the sixth. Alexei Ramirez started off the frame by hitting a high infield chopper that Keuchel was forced to field near the third base line. Ramirez beat the throw to first by a hair, putting a man on for Jose Abreu. With a 1-1 count, Keuchel threw Abreu a low slider that didn't dive all that much. Abreu hammered it just over the wall in center to finally break the stalemate and give the Sox a 2-0 lead.
After Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, and Zach Duke combined to throw a couple scoreless frames, the White Sox were able to pad their lead a bit in the bottom of the eighth. World Series hero Chad Qualls came on to pitch the eighth for the Astros, and Abreu and Garcia welcomed him with back to back singles through the right side. Soto then worked a walk to bring up Melky Cabrera, and Qualls once again found himself standing on the mound at U.S. Cellular Field in a bases-loaded situation. Like last time, he threw a first-pitch sinker that was left up in the zone, and like last time, it was driven deep to left. Cabrera smoked a liner that sailed over Tucker's reaching glove for a two-run double.
That was unfortunately all the damage the White Sox could do. Josh Fields came on in relief of Qualls, and after he walked Gordon Beckham to re-load the bases, he struck out Tyler Flowers, Emilio Bonifacio, and Adam Eaton in order to end the inning. The Sox were 1-for-7 with the bases loaded in the contest.
With a four run lead, Ventura opted to leave Duke out there to start the ninth. He induced an extremely high pop-up from Carter to shallow center for what should have been the first out. Instead, there was some miscommunication between Bonifacio, Eaton, and Garcia and the ball landed safely, giving Carter a "double". Carlos Correa was up next, and he hammered an 0-1 pitch from Duke into the seats in left for his first major league home run.
That meant David Robertson had to come in to nail it down. Hank Conger greeted him with a hard-struck single to right, which brought the tying run to the plate in Luis Valbuena. Valbuena struck fear into the U.S. Cellular Field crowd with a just-missed-it towering drive to deep right that Garcia caught near the warning track. Robertson settled down from there and fanned Colby Rasmus before getting George Springer to hit a liner at Garcia in right to mercifully end the game.
*This was the 57th game of the season, and Abreu's home run in the sixth gave the White Sox a total of 40 on the year. For a bit of contrast, it took the 2014 White Sox 37 games to reach 40 home runs. For more contrast, the league-leading Astros have 79.
*Melky Cabrera got on base more than once for the first time since May 28 and drew his first walk since May 15.
*Flowers is now 3-for-29 lifetime with the bases loaded with 18 strikeouts.
*Robin Ventura put on the hit-and-run for Bonifacio in the seventh inning with Flowers on first, and Bonifacio showcased the downside potential of that particular decision. He swung at strike three in the dirt, and reaching for the pitch caused him to lose his balance and lean over the plate. That disrupted Conger's attempt to gun out Flowers and interference was called, resulting in a sort-of SHOTHO double-play.
*In a strange lineup decision that actually made sense, Robin Ventura put Soto at DH and batted him fifth. Some managers shy away from using their second catcher in this way, but Ventura correctly determined that the upside of Soto's bat against a lefty outweighed the possible embarrassment of having the pitcher enter the lineup in the unlikely event that Flowers got hurt. Ventura showed similar flexibility with A.J. Pierzynski's hot bat in 2012.
*I've been pretty bad luck as a recapper thus far, so it sure feels nice to get my first win.