Generating scoring opportunities is important, but the lasting effects are minimal when they don’t actually translate into runs.
Base runners were a common sight on Tuesday, but with a delay until the fourth inning before cashing them in, it was the White Sox (42-25) who took advantage in a 3-0 shutout win over the league-leading Tampa Bay Rays. It was a culmination of finally breaking the promising young lefthandeder, Shane McClanahan, capitalizing on a rare Tampa Bay (43-25) fielding miscue and seeing Dallas Keuchel looking like his youthful, dominant self by working around his own jams.
It’s the first time the Rays have been shut out since May 12, and their first loss by three or more runs since May 8.
The White Sox had runners in each of the first three innings, with three of their four hits coming off of McClanahan’s fastball, which averaged 97.7 mph. It took until two outs in the fourth inning to break the scoreless tie, though.
Andrew Vaughn walked and Leury García hit his first of two singles with one out, and then a batter later, Danny Mendick did his best Nick Madrigal impression in the No. 9 spot. He smacked a single into left field — the White Sox’s only hit against McClanahan’s otherwise dominant slider that yielded a 47% whiff rate — where Randy Arozarena threw a missile home that would’ve gotten Vaughn out by 10 feet at home.
Instead, the throw went between Francisco Mejía’s legs, allowing Vaughn to score and García to come home, as Mejía never tried to tag him. It was a rare error for the Rays, who had committed the second-fewest errors in baseball entering Thursday. The White Sox led, 2-0.
McClanahan sat at 73 pitches through four innings, which already surpassed his 70.4-pitch season average. Considering he had never topped 80 pitches before Thursday, it seemed likely the Rays would turn it to their bullpen to keep it a two-run game.
Adam Engel quickly showed them why that would’ve been a viable option. He launched a 94.6 mph fastball into left-center field for a 402-foot home run, leaving his bat at 107.1 mph.
McClanahan finished the fifth inning, but the damage was done — a 3-0 White Sox lead. He allowed three runs (two earned), seven hits and a walk, while striking out four batters as he threw a career-high 89 pitches.
He worked around base runners in nearly every inning, but the difference in the game was that Keuchel found success even when it didn’t come in his patented form. The Rays showed why they rank third in fly ball rate by lifting pitches thrown by the usually ground ball-reliant Keuchel. Manuel Margot grounded out to start the game, but Keuchel didn’t force another ground out until the fifth inning. He finished with six ground outs.
But the ball largely didn’t travel in the air, with the Rays recording seven hard-hit balls in his seven-inning start. Keuchel has given up one homer in 19 innings in June — a major improvement on the eight bombs he conceded in his first 59 2⁄3 innings.
When the Rays put two runners on in the fourth inning, Keuchel forced two fly outs to end the threat. And then in the sixth inning, he stomped on any growing Rays momentum by forcing a double play, which García started at third base by fielding Yandy Díaz’s 108 mph grounder.
Keuchel continued his strong June by tossing seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, a walk and striking out five batters. The Rays threatened, but could never crack the crafty veteran.
Although, arguably nothing better sums up the White Sox’s ability to squash rallies better than the bullpen.
After Aaron Bummer’s usual leadoff walk in the eighth inning, he retired the Rays in order, capped by striking out Arozarena (who K’d three times). In the ninth, Liam Hendriks let the tying run come to the plate following one-out singles from Díaz and Ji-Man Choi. Brandon Lowe barely missed a double down the first-base line, but then struck out. Joey Wendle struck out to end the game, one where Tampa Bay literally was a swing away from tying.
Tim Anderson, who finished 3-for-4, and the White Sox go for the series win at 1:10 p.m. Wednesday. I’ll be on the Six Pack, with Leigh Allan doing the recapping.
The best record in baseball will be on the line.