If the White Sox are going to power their way into the wild card race, they can't have losses like this. One late-inning mistake after another undermined a strong effort by the White Sox offense, resulting in a loss to one of the teams ahead of them in the wild card race.
Let's start with Joe McEwing's send in the ninth inning, which might just be the worst decision of his career.
Down 5-4, Alexei Ramirez led off the ninth with a single off Brad Boxberger. Ramirez then stole second during Adam LaRoche's bat to advance into scoring position, a term McEwing took too literally.
LaRoche stayed back on a Boxberger changeup and muscled it into shallow center field. Ramirez initially held ground to make sure it would clear the infield, then took off for third. Kevin Kiermaier, who could be the American League's Gold Glove center fielder this year, collected the ball with a full head of steam as Ramirez touched third.
McEwing waved Ramirez all the way for some reason, even though there was nobody out, and it was an awful idea. Ramirez was out by 15-20 feet, despite his valiant attempt to leap over catcher Curt Casali. Instead settling for nobody out and runners on the corners, the Sox had a runner on second and one out. At least LaRoche moved up 90 feet on the throw.
He was replaced by Leury Garcia, but it didn't matter. Avisail Garcia struck out, and Carlos Sanchez, who hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning, made more good contact, only to see it take the form of a lineout to right, ending the game.
So McEwing's decision was brutal. So was the bullpen.
First, Zach Duke gave up a game-tying homer in the eighth ... to Grady Sizemore. Left-handed Grady Sizemore. .584-OPSing, 58.4-year-old Grady Sizemore. With two outs and nobody on, Duke just flat-out hung a slider, and Sizemore didn't miss it. He crushed it out to right, tying the game.
David Robertson kept the ball in the park, but that's about the best you can say. He issued a walk to Logan Forsythe after getting ahead 1-2, then gave up a single to Asdrubal Cabrera to put runners on the corners. After striking out James Loney with a spike curve, he tried to do the same thing to Mikie Mahtook on an 0-1 pitch after cutter. Like Duke, he hung the breaking ball. Like Sizemore, Mahtook pounced, smashing a liner through the left side to drive home the decisive run.
This joint venture wasted some good work by the bats. Four runs doesn't seem like a lot, but considering the lineup looked utterly confused by Nate Karns over the first five innings, the final four innings were a pleasant surprise.
The Rays doinked their way to a run in the first off Jose Quintana, and Garcia's inability to catch a deep fly in the fifth led to another run. Meanwhile, Karns had allowed just one hit and two walks at that point, and needed just 72 pitches. This could have been a very quiet night.
Instead, the third time through the order was the charm. With one out, Tyler Saladino took a low-and-outside fastball to right center for a single. One pitch later, Jose Abreu jumped on a hanging curve and clubbed it out to center, just over the reach of Kiermaier's glove. It was close enough that most of the stadium thought Kiermaier might've caught it, but his glove was empty. (It was close enough that the umpires reviewed it for some reason, even though there was no other place the ball could've gone but over the fence.)
That tied the game at 2, and for the short-leashing Kevin Cash, that was enough to take Karns out of the game and start matchupalooza.
Cash had the upper hand entering the bottom of the seventh, as Sizemore doubled off Jake Petricka and took third when Garcia short-armed the throw to the cutoff man Sanchez. Despite a fine diving play by LaRoche for the first out, Sizemore scored one batter later on Evan Longoria's double to left. Petricka escaped the inning with the bases loaded after a pair of walks (one intentional, one not), but with the Sox trailing regardless.
Nevertheless, Petricka was briefly in position for the win as Sox foiled Cash's pitching changes. The LOOGY Xavier Cedeno accomplished his goal against LaRoche, but Steve Geltz had problems getting the other two outs. Garcia finally contributed something positive by reaching out and pulling a breaking ball into the left-center gap for a double. A mound visit didn't help either, because Sanchez followed by ripping a 1-1 fastball over the wall in right to put the Sox ahead 4-3.
The Sox offense tied the game, took the lead, then put itself in position to tie the game again. A number of games could've been won earlier this season with that kind of output, so it really sucks to lose one like this.