Once in a while across the sporting world, somebody will say about a young team that “they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to win.”
Nobody’s going to say that about the 2017 White Sox as a whole, but for at least one evening, this game had a lot of things that weren’t supposed to happen.
The White Sox weren’t supposed to be able to pick themselves up from an embarrassing six-run Kansas City third. Reynaldo Lopez wasn’t supposed to pitch in the seventh after giving up those six runs in that third. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be in position for the win after the White Sox rallied for five runs in the fourth.
And by all means, they were never supposed to end the game on a 9-2-4-6 double play.
Let’s start with that part first.
Juan Minaya came in to pitch the ninth, and he put himself into a classic Juan Minaya jam by giving up a one-out single to Whit Merrifield. The league leader in stolen bases added his 33rd during a lengthy battle between Minaya and Lorenzo Cain.
Cain ended up forcing Minaya to throw a 10th pitch, and he slashed it to right for a single. Avisail Garcia stumbled while trying to get his charge lined up for a throw home, but Merrifield didn’t get a great break himself. The missteps canceled out each other, giving Garcia an opportunity to rack up another lead-saving baserunner kill at home plate (he’d cut down Alex Gordon by plenty for the third out in the sixth on a similar play).
Once again, his throw was on line, and with a big hop for Omar Narvaez to snag. Narvaez did his part, securing the ball, then lunging back to tag whatever he could get. Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora saw contact and called Merrifield out.
And yet the play wasn’t over. Narvaez wheeled around and saw Cain hung up between first and second for reasons undetermined. He fired to first, which Yoan Moncada was covering since Jose Abreu served as a cutoff man for the throw home. Moncada then turned and whipped one low to second. Tim Anderson snagged the short hop and swiped a tag across on Cain for the third and final out, and with an emphatic shout pictured above.
Ned Yost challenged the play because he couldn’t have had less to lose -- the game was over if he didn’t, and so were their wild card hopes since Minnesota won. Replay did him no favors, as it showed Narvaez swiping Merrifield’s shoulder, and Anderson tagging Cain while his feet-first slide ended up going away from the bag.
Game over, by 9-2-4-6 double play.
It was a spectacularly random ending for a game that had been defined by clumsiness.
The White Sox started by building a traditional 2-0 lead on their own merit. They put the first two aboard in the second with a single and an HBP, and those runners scored (Matt Davidson double, Yolmer Sanchez groundout).
Then the White Sox forgot how to play baseball, with the middle infield abandoning Lopez multiple times, with the damage mounting.
There was nothing they could do about Alcides Escobar’s leadoff homer that cut the Sox’ lead in half. There was plenty Moncada could’ve done with a Gordon grounder, but he decided to go with a timid backhand approach, and the ball ate him up.
After Merrifield shot a single through the right side, Tim Anderson had a chance to put Lopez back on track. Cain hit a strange liner to short that handcuffed Anderson. A couple times in the recent past, Anderson thought about dropping a soft liner and starting a double play, but he couldn’t execute it smoothly enough the first time to fool the umpires, and he didn’t have the conviction the second time.
Here, he legitimately dropped a line drive, but it set up easy 6-4-3 scenario he’d had in mind. Yet he froze up for a second, and when his decision-making resumed, he made a wild throw to first that pulled Abreu off the bag and loaded the bases. That was the inning’s second error.
Melky Cabrera then came through with the first of his three hits, lining a single off Moncada’s glove to tie the game at 2. Eric Hosmer followed with a two-run single to right center, giving the Royals a 4-2 lead. Sal Perez hit a sharp-but-fieldable one-hopper to Anderson, who couldn’t come up with it (it was ruled a hit, but it could’ve been an error). That reloaded the bases, and while Mike Moustakas grounded into a well-executed 4-6-3 double play, it scored another run and made it 5-2 Kansas City.
For the cherry on top, Hosmer scored on a wild pitch. The ball didn’t get far away from Narvaez, but with the lefty shift applied to Brandon Moss, Hosmer could take a very aggressive secondary lead on balls in the dirt. He scored easily.
Hammel retired the White Sox 1-2-3 in the third, so it looked like the rout was on.
Credit Anderson and Moncada for dusting themselves off. After Narvaez shot a single past third base for a leadoff double, Anderson cashed him in with a single up the middle. Matt Davidson then socked a rolling slider out to left for a two-run shot, narrowing the margin to 6-5 over the course of three batters.
After Adam Engel struck out, Yolmer Sanchez reached on an infield single. Moncada then came to the plate, worked a 2-0 count, got a fastball in that fastball count and crushed it out to center for a go-ahead homer that ended Hammel’s night.
From that point forward, the Sox played airtight defense behind Lopez, who did not strike out a batter over 6 1⁄3 innings. Moncada made a nice couple sliding plays with his momentum going away from first base, Anderson flagged down a pop-up in shallow center field, and Engel ran down a drive on the warning track. Abreu snared a Moustakas rocket to end the fifth, and Garcia tallied his first outfield assist to end the sixth.
Throw in strong relief work from Aaron Bummer and Al Alburquerque in the setup spot, and it was like the third inning never happened. If the White Sox can respond to failure with similar fortitude on a more frequent basis, there’s hope for this thing.
*Lopez had very 1917 line: 6 1⁄3 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
*Narvaez and Davidson had big games under the radar. Narvaez reached base three times and scored twice, and Davison drove in three with his pair of extra-base hits.
*Thanks to Gibby for the tickets. This was a tremendous game to see in person.
Record: 62-91 | Box score