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With a well-played, 3-1 win at San Diego on Friday night, the White Sox kept pace with the Cleveland Guardians and remained just two games back in the AL Central.
The South Siders improved to 84-73 behind a strong effort, once again, from Birmingham call-up Davis Martin. Martin mesmerized the Friars with pinpoint placement (103 pitches, 74 strikes) and out-dueled San Diego ace Yu Darvish in the process. It was a career-high eight Ks for the Texan, without a single free pass and allowing just one earned.
But this was a well-played game in all aspects for the White Sox, who have seen their senses sharpen in the second half, upping the ante in fundamental play and clutch hitting.
Chicago was once again flawless on defense, highlighted by game-saving play in the fifth inning ripped right from a textbook: Gavin Sheets playing a Juan Soto carom off of the wall like a right fielder with two decades rather than two seasons of experience, then completing his task with a deadeye cut-off throw to Josh Harrison positioned perfectly to force a hold on base-runner Jurickson Profar at third base. Only the Padres, perhaps scouting Chicago’s first half defense rather than updating their report with Sheets’ continued growth roaming the prairie, sent Profar barreling home — where Harrison’s one-bounce, shade up the third-base line throw cut the runner down by 15 feet, as if Joe McEwing himself had provided the green light.
But really, defense wasn’t the first line in this win, as White Sox pitching combined for 15 Ks. While the majority went to starter Martin, all six White Sox pitchers tonight had at least one. And that includes two guys who retired just a batter apiece, including one flail-out at another key juncture of the game.
Even after an ... exciting ... end to the fifth with Sheets-to-Harrison-to-Carlos-Pérez for the punch-out of Profar, interim manager Miguel Cairo tried to reward Martin with the sixth inning — and the rookie righty almost finished it clean. But a two-out single from Brandon Drury coincided with the young arm tilting past 100 pitches (to 103), necessitating the hook. Cairo made the sound call, bring in dicey fireballer Joe Kelly for one batter, extra-bases threat Josh Bell. Kelly K’s Bell and doused the feeble flames to finish the frame.
The White Sox offense was not at its sharpest, but execution can be excused when extra-base hits enter the picture. All it took to decide the game was one inning of flex, and in this victory it was the fourth.
Down 1-0 after a Bell RBI single in the second, Eloy Jiménez went warehouse shopping with his 16th Big Boy Bato of the year:
Eloy’s towering clout led off the stanza, but the White Sox kept coming. No. 5 hitter Sheets (2-for-4 on the night) doubled, setting up a gift from the San Diego defense:
Contrast this play with the Sheets gem on the Sox side: Yoán Moncada ripped a single to right field, but the ball is crushed so hard that Gavin the Mack Truck is no gimme-score from second. In fact, it would have been a smart hold by McEwing, given the conservative call puts runners on the corners with Darvish in need of some smelling salts after three straight hits. Instead, right fielder Soto got to the ball quickly, but deep. Friars second sacker Jake Cronenworth, already shaded for Moncada to pull, became a viewer on the play rather than busting his tail as Harrison did to give Soto a cutoff target. With no safety option (a crisp whip to a cutoff man kills Sheets dead at the plate, as Soto died later in the game), the would-be $440 Million Man floated his throw to the backup cutoff, first baseman Drury, who either sensed the fruitlessness of pursuing the out or was just as defensively disenchanted as Cronenworth on the play. Sheets as much as shrugged his shoulders after scoring, having sensed the suicide mission but surviving to see another day on the base paths.
The late win, a comeback of sorts given San Diego drew first blood, surely frustrated the scoreboard-watchers in Cleveland, who are simply unable to shake the pesky White Sox after Chicago secured the tiebreaker by taking two of three in a final September series. While the Guardians have an easy draw with five more at home vs. K.C. to finish their season slate, the White Sox need only to make up two games to tie in the division and thus take the AL Central.
Tomorrow is another late-night tilt, with those Guardians goons scoreboard-watching again in hopes of a Pale Hose soiling. Don’t count on it, fellas; you may have to win out vs. the Royals, because the White Sox, on Halfway to April Fools’ of all days, have started their hard charge.
Had the White Sox simply won the season series by the SLIMMEST of margins this season (10-9 vs. Cleveland and the Royals, 9-7 so far vs. Minny) along with their actual 12-7 series win vs. Detroit, Chicago would trail Cleveland by just two games right now, with five left and the tiebreaker in hand.
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