Ironic, yes, that after José Abreu had a stellar series defensively against Cleveland, it was a bobble by the Chicago White Sox first baseman that allowed the eventual game-winner in tonight’s 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
With one out in the eighth, in a mess of relief pitcher Juan Minaya’s own doing, Rule 5 attaché Victor Reyes grounded to Abreu, who was pulled in on the infield grass to gun down John Hicks if he tried for home. Either the contact play was on, or Hicks made a bad read, because he should have run into an out; instead, the Detroit first sacker barely snuck in with a deft left hand, as Abreu bobbled the baseball on the exchange from his glove, delaying catcher Omar Narváez’s tag by a precious milliseconds and allowing the Tigers to go up, 4-3.
In the very bottom of the inning, the White Sox failed en masse to get Abreu off the hook for failing to find the ears on the ball in the top half. In excruciating but customary 2018 White Sox fashion, the White Sox rallied, threatened, growled, menaced — and came up empty offensively.
Singles by Daniel Palka (replaced by pinch-runner Trayce Thompson) and Matt Davidson (replaced by pinch-runner José Rondón) led off the inning against Bengals reliever Alex Wilson. God in heaven, manager Ricky Renteria had Narváez — who in his at-bat prior hit a towering, three-run homer to right to tie the score, 3-3,
and had earlier doubled, making him responsible for the two extra-base hits the White Sox would have on the night — bunt Thompson and Rondón over to put ducks on the pond, with one out. First base open (grr ... ), Wilson issued a free pass to Tim Anderson, loading the bases.
Charlie Tilson jammed himself swinging on an 0-1 slider way inside, for an easy 3-2 putout at home. And with two outs, Adam Engel tapped with proper Engelish back through the box for an easy third out, José Iglesias to Hicks.
Engel won a spot on the team out of camp this spring by rocking Cactus pitching hard, with big swings, trying to pull everything and succeeding. Against major league pitchers, night after night, the fleet center fielder has has considerably less luck going 16-inch beerleaguer from the No. 9 spot.
Whereas recent call-up Kevan Smith has no less a track record of offensive success in the bigs than Engel (that’s to say, neither Smith nor Engel have had any success), he has demonstrated a clever approach at the plate, a willingness to take what a pitcher is giving him, namely by using a quick bat to take pitches the other way, to right field.
In that eighth inning at-bat, at a crucial moment likely making or breaking the game, Engel could or would not vary his largely failing/flailing approach at the plate. Wilson spun him five straight sliders off of the plate, Engel swinging at three of them. The third swing accomplished exactly what Wilson wanted to force Engel to do: Turn his his pull-only approach against him, and Engel obliged. Determined to try to yank an outside pitch, Engel’s effort, predictably enough, resulted in a flatulent little ground ball up the middle for an easy out.
The White Sox mounted a mild rally in the ninth, as Abreu tried to get himself off the hook with a two-out, infield single in the hole. But because Renteria had already ripped Palka from the ballgame in order to put a burner on base for his station-to-station offense, the man standing between win and loss was Thompson.
Trayce, who punched his Season Miracle card once already this season with a walk-off dinger, was helpless against Shane Greene, earning his 18th save while working his third game in a row. Greene has had five such stints of three consecutive games already this season and has given up a run just once in those 15 games. Bengals manager Ron Gardenhire doubtlessly is going to murder Greene this season; what’s uncertain is whether, given Greene’s fantastic plastic arm, any jury would convict.
Reynaldo López had an off game in his six-inning quality start, yielding a 46 game score. The fact that his nine-hit, three-earned run, three-K, zero-walk effort is considered an off game is a tribute to the ascendance of hurler who now has a clear path to becoming the ace of the staff.
Minaya pitched well in spite of taking the loss: two innings, 30 of 45 pitches for strikes, four Ks against a walk. Credit how well the bullpen has pitched (0.68 ERA over the last nine games/2.36 over the last 31 before Friday) that the collective’s earned run in three innings of work tonight worsens those stellar figures, which the bullpen began once the White Sox pulled their collective heads out of their 9-27 hineys back in May.
Davidson had three hits, all singles, but most importantly, no whiffs.
As an aside, it was Mullet Night at the ballpark. Between Budweiser becoming the official domestic of the White Sox (presumably paving the way for Bud Light Lime to flow out of certain water fountains at Sox Park) and the winceable rolling out of this uniquely curious promotion, it surely has been a golden god day for young SSS scribe Kenneth “KenWo” Neadly.
Finally, perhaps as a cautionary tale about the perils of a voluntary, even enthusiastic, rebuild, the White Sox find themselves buried 12 games back in an eminently-winnable AL Central, while the whoops-we’ve-won-four-in-a-row-in-Chicago-and-goddam-it’s-a-lot-hotter-this-trip Tiggers now sit a mere 3 1⁄2 games out of first place, determined to catch the Wahoos at the top even if it means they gotta wrestle the crown away at 78-84 or 80-82.
Somewhere, Michael Kopech sheds a tiny tear, Eloy Jiménez idly bounces a basketball between batting practice seshes, and Renteria jots a few more “definitely bunt” scenarios onto his game strategy notecards.