Is this the biggest win of the season for the White Sox (60-56, 2 GB), who have tied their season high-water mark at four games better than .500 for the first time since April 16? Many people are saying this.
Death; taxes; Eastern sunrise; Western sunset; grass being green, mixed metaphors of certainty, and a quality start from Johnny Cueto every fifth day. With the standard side of hair-pullingly tepid offense — for seven and two-thirds of the first eight innings — to match. Offensive heroics generated most of the highlights, but Cueto was the unquestioned star for the home side, twirling eight innings of six-hit ball with just two runs (one earned) allowed. It’s the 16th time in 17 appearances that Cueto has allowed three runs or fewer, and at over 3 rWAR, he’s already the third most successful free agent signing of Hahn’s GM tenure, behind José Abreu (5.8 WAR in 2014) and James McCann (3.6 WAR in 2019) (Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel admittedly would have gotten there over a full season in 2020, but the record isn’t stellar, in any case).
This one started on a sour note. The Sox took the field bearing a strong resemblance to the Tigers team they just swept, letting the Astros on the board hardly before recording an out when Josh Harrison booted a would-be double-play ball on the second play of the game. A Yordan Alvarez sacrifice fly and Alex Bregman double later, Houston had a 2-0 lead that they would hold for the next 47 outs of the game.
I’m not mathematically inclined either, so don’t hate me if I get this wrong: 46 outs from that moment takes us all the way up to two outs in the bottom of the eighth. What happened in between the top of the first and the bottom of the eighth? Not a whole lot! Eight hits, eight singles, and zero runs. José Urquidy and Johnny Cueto gave the South Side crowd a pure masterclass in weak contact, combining to record just seven of 47 outs via strikeout and making it look for a moment like they might be out of the stadium in barely over two hours. Here’s Urquidy’s audition reel:
It was with two outs in the eighth, just moments before the game’s conclusion, that the action got heavy. After 7 2⁄3 masterful innings, AJ Pollock drove Urquidy from the game with a bad swing that simply worked out in his favor, rolling over a slider and tapping it down the third base line slowly enough — a mere 32 mph, per Statcast — that Alex Bregman could only stick it in his back pocket. Entering the game for Urquidy, Rafael Montero’s game plan was to simply blow his high-nineties fastball past Andrew Vaughn. He almost succeeded, working the Sox 2-hitter to a 2-2 count before getting just a little bit too predictable, as Vaughn was able to take the at-bat’s fifth high-and-outside fastball down the right field line for his 22nd double of the season.
You can choose some foul words to describe the White Sox offense in 2022, but generating offense with two outs is one of the game’s few “clutch” elements they’ve consistently done well, and they couldn’t have picked a better time to start pushing those buttons tonight. With Pollock failing to score from first on Vaughn’s double, the job of clearing the bases fell to the resurgent Eloy Jiménez. After two rough swings-and-misses on more hard fastballs, it didn’t seem likely that Eloy would be up for the task. For the second straight hitter, however, Montero simply tried the same thing too many times, and Jiménez was able to recognize the third consecutive inside sinker early enough to get the barrel to the ball and rip it down the third-base line for a game-tying double.
Two walks (first intentional, then less so) to José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal later, the offense’s Cthulhian rise from slumber was brought to completion when Yoán Moncada lined the first pitch he saw back into dead center field to end Montero’s evening and hand the Sox a 4-2 lead.
As is the specialty of all but the greatest of closers, Liam Hendriks gave us a little bit of a sweat in the ninth inning, walking Trey Mancini and allowing a Christian Vásquez single to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs. All a matter of course, though: Mauricio Dubón popped up the first pitch he saw to the right side of the infield, and that was that.
Tomorrow, Guaranteed Rate Field hosts what may be the highest-octane pitching matchup of the year, as Dylan Cease (12-5, 1.96 ERA) takes on the league’s only other pitcher with a sub-2 ERA in Justin Verlander (15-3, 1.85 ERA), who suffered his first loss to the White Sox since 2014 when they stuck him for seven runs (four earned) over 3 2⁄3 innings in Houston on June 18. This matchup will not determine the 2022 AL Cy Young, but Cease outdueling Verlander and/or a Sox win could do a lot to even a race that seems to be Verlander’s to lose.
First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. CST ,and the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago and ESPN-AM 1000. See you there!