There’s just something about Detroit.
The last time the White Sox scored nine runs and actually won the game? April 10 in Comerica Park, more than 60 days ago.
It’s a stat that feels close to impossible, but as recently as his first rehab start in Charlotte, Lance Lynn’s return to a major league mound felt like it might be the missing piece for a team that had spent the first few months of the season within a stone’s throw of first place despite a Murphy’s Law kind of season.
A few weeks later, that view is highly generous. Entering Monday three games back of Cleveland for second place in the AL Central, Lynn taking his place in the rotation feels like a desperate grab at some sense of normalcy, rather than anything coming together.
The first inning of Lynn’s first regular season start of 2022 only seemed to confirm that there was no great reset. Perhaps the next few weeks will make this look silly, but no switch was flipped. José Abreu put two runs on the board with his eighth home run of the year, giving the Sox a first-inning lead — as one should against Rony García, we likely would have argued last year. And yet many in the 773 area code were unsurprised that the offense’s two-run lead lasted for all of one Lynn pitch, as Willi Castro deposited the 35-year-old righthander’s opening offering into the right-center field bleachers.
Two singles and a Javier Báez sacrifice fly later, the game was tied, 2-2, and any hope we might have had of Lynn announcing his arrival — and the Sox return to contender status — with a bang was more or less instantly dashed.
Lance didn’t run any clean box scores during his Charlotte rehab stint, and he was far from his workhorse peak of last summer tonight, allowing the Tigers to reach double-digits in the hit column before departing with 80 pitches and one out in the fifth inning. To take the glass-half-full approach, though, it’s also telling that he limited the Tigers to just three runs on those 10 hits, most of which were less of the “bad pitch that got hit hard” variety and more of the “okay swing found a good spot” type. Castro’s homer was one of just three Detroit batted balls with an exit velocity breaking 100 mph, and it’s hard to not suspect that a few of those hits might have found gloves on a team with a defense that looks prepared more than once in a blue moon.
His command wasn’t terribly sharp, but Lynn still avoided issuing any free passes while striking out four, and as he has typically been in a Sox uniform, managed to bear down and get out when it mattered most. His velocity looked perfectly in line with what one would expect at this stage of the season, sitting in the 92 mph range while topping out near 95. Interestingly, he flashed what appears to be a new slider with low-80s velocity that was distinct from his high-80s cutter and mid-70s curveball, which should be something to keep an eye on as he inevitably loses ticks here and there on the velocity he was still able to dig for last season.
All-in-all, it was a performance any of us would be hard-pressed to complain about, given what we’ve spent most of the season watching.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the team didn’t try their hardest to make this as 2022 of a game as possible. After allowing Harold Castro to single home Kody Clemens in the second inning following the latter’s first career big-league hit, Lynn pitched with a deficit for most of his outing, with the Sox only pulling ahead again in the fifth inning when Luis Robert scorched a 101 mph line drive that dropped just in front of Detroit’s right fielder to score Danny Mendick and make it a 4-3 game.
At that point, the injury bug struck again, as Seby Zavala was forced to enter the game at the DH spot after Jake Burger left the game following a hit-by-pitch to the hand; we await official word on his status, although postgame Burgatron sounded upbeat. Seemingly aware of the state of their bullpen, the Sox bats did their best to tack on more against what’s surprisingly been one of the most solid bullpens in baseball, tagging former Cub and failed starter Andrew Chafin for three more runs in the sixth inning.
And in what feels like an all-too-rare occurrence, the Sox were the side that benefitted in a game-deciding way from easily avoidable defensive miscues, as the first two of those runs came when Chafin unwisely attempted to nab the lead runner on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Reese McGuire but instead sent the ball caroming into left field.
The Andrew Vaughn RBI single that followed was described by Len Kasper as potentially backbreaking, but the exhaustion of the Sox bullpen had other ideas. Though he cleaned up Lynn’s fifth-inning baserunners successfully, Kyle Crick opened the sixth inning with two walks that Bennett Sousa ultimately allowed to score in what’s become an unfortunate trend for the lefthander, who lowered his ERA to 8.41 by letting inherited runners be paid by Crick’s tab before settling in to retire his own.
After Sousa’s second hit allowed became Miguel Cabrera’s 1,825th career RBI and cut the Sox lead to 7-5, negative vibes began sprinkling down with the drizzling rain, and the question of whether the team’s bullpen — whose level of unavailability and overuse I’m running out of metaphors for — could grind out the final six outs of the game was not one many of us had to have been looking forward to seeing answered.
As frustrating as Abreu’s contract year as been, he was determined to let us rest easy tonight. The ever-surprising Tanner Banks came up clutch for the second consecutive day by setting the eighth inning down in order, which gave Pito just enough space to take the most authoritative swing of the day and all but kill whatever momentum the Tigers may have been building.
As the White Sox appear to be taking the hockey-media approach to whatever injury Liam Hendriks has clearly suffered from, Kendall Graveman took the ball for the ninth inning and needed just 14 pitches to end the game and again pull his team up to three games below the water line. Sousa moved to 3-0 on the season in spite of his ugly ERA, while the winless Rony García suffered his second loss. It was Abreu’s 19th multi-homer game as a member of the White Sox, moving him seven behind Paul Konerko’s 26 and 10 behind the Big Hurt’s 29 on the team’s all-time leaderboard.
Having gotten in his pre-start side work in oh-so-conspicuous fashion, Dylan Cease takes the bump tomorrow opposite Drew Hutchison, who has yet to open a game this season. Cease’s 89 strikeouts are the fourth-most ever for a Sox pitcher through his first 12 starts of the year; he’ll make an attempt at joining Chris Sale (2015) and Carlos Rodón (2021) as the only South Siders to break 100 punchouts in their first 13 starts.
First pitch is at 6:10 p.m. CST, with Joe Resis, Chrystal O’Keefe and Kristina Airdo providing your SSS coverage.