In what was set up to be a pitcher’s duel between two serious Cy Young candidates, the White Sox (61-56) beat the Astros (75-43). The White Sox finally got to Houston starter Justin Verlander in the seventh, and they ultimately completed another comeback on the South Side.
The scoring got started in the bottom of the second, when the White Sox unexpectedly strung some hits together against Verlander. That inning got started with a plate appearance by José Abreu that resulted in a hard-earned single. Although Abreu fell behind 1-2, he stayed alive by fouling off a couple of tough pitches before reaching out and poking a slider into right field. Yasmani Grandal followed with another single on a 1-2 breaking ball, and suddenly, the White Sox had runners on the corners with no outs.
Yoán Moncada worked a six-pitch battle before striking out, but Josh Harrison picked him up. Harrison hit a sharp ground ball up the middle, and although it had the potential of being an unlucky double play, José Altuve failed to field it cleanly. Once Altuve came up with the ball, he threw to second, but Grandal narrowly beat the throw, so everyone was safe, and Harrison received credit for an RBI single. Seby Zavala followed with a single to left to load the bases, and it appeared that insurance was on the way. However, due to a first-pitch pop out by Lenyn Sosa and a 6-4 force out hit by AJ Pollock, the inning was over.
In the top of the third, White Sox starter Dylan Cease worked into potential major trouble by issuing back-to-back walks to open the frame. His situation improved when he struck out Yordan Álvarez and caught Altuve leaning for a pickoff at second base. Just like that, the Astros only had a runner on first with two outs, and their scoring threat was quite mild. But Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker ensured that Houston did not come away empty-handed, as they hit back-to-back RBI doubles to turn the game around and give the Astros a 2-1 lead.
In Cease’s defense, Bregman’s deep double to right would have been caught by most major league right fielders, but Andrew Vaughn is no ordinary right fielder. With a tougher official scorer, Cease would have allowed zero earned runs that inning. Vaughn really shouldn’t be forced to play outfield, but Rick Hahn has done some questionable things with the roster.
In the fifth and final inning for Cease, Altuve made up for his earlier misplays with his 20th home run of the season.
Jose Altuve's 20th HR went 20² feet— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2022
That 400-foot home run to left field was on a hanging slider, which Cease has not thrown many of lately. Unfortunately, he threw one to Altuve, and he did not miss it.
Unlike Cease, Verlander was efficient with his pitches and made it deep into this game. Verlander also recovered nicely after the second inning, when he got off somewhat easily despite allowing four singles. Thanks to scoreless relief innings from José Ruiz and Vince Velasquez, the score remained 3-1 until the bottom of the seventh. That was when the White Sox offense woke back up.
With one out, Harrison singled to deep left (it would have been a double if not for a stumble as he rounded first). Zavala followed with a walk (the only free pass Verlander would issue). Up to the plate stepped Gavin Sheets, who was pinch-hitting for Sosa.
Sheets delivered an incredibly-clutch double that increased the South Siders’ win probability from from 27.9% to 68.7%. For a change, Tony La Russa also deserves credit, as using Sheets as a pinch-hitter was the right call, and he got the good result, too.
The White Sox failed to break through with the go-ahead run, as Verlander retired Pollock and Vaughn harmlessly, but major damage had been done.
Jimmy Lambert continued the bullpen’s great evening by pitching a scoreless top of the eighth, and finally, Verlander departed the game after seven innings. Héctor Neris, a right-handed reliever, took over for Houston to begin the bottom of the eighth. Eloy Jiménez worked the count full and walked, and Abreu followed with a single for his third hit of the game. The mood was temporarily dampened by a 3-6-1 double play by Grandal. There was a runner on third, but two outs from the double play. But for the second straight game, Moncada came through in the clutch.
Liam Hendriks retired all three Astros he faced in the top of the ninth. That concluded a terrific day for the bullpen, which combined for four shutout innings and only three hits allowed.
The White Sox will be back in action tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. Central against the Astros. Michael Kopech and Framber Valdez are the probable starting pitchers. NBC Sports Chicago and WMVP 1000 AM will cover the game. Incredibly, the White Sox will have a chance to win their sixth consecutive game and win a four-game series against the top team in the AL. Hannah LaMotta, Zach Hayes and Chrystal O’Keefe will anchor our coverage to see if the White Sox can get it done.