For the second straight game, the White Sox had their backs against the wall, as they needed a win to extend their season. On Sunday, the South Siders battled back after falling into an early 5-1 deficit. However, this time around, when going up 5-1 the Astros kept their feet on the gas, and ran away with a one-sided win.
Starter Carlos Rodón and the White Sox got off to a strong start. Although José Altuve led off the game with a double, Rodón pitched out of trouble by throwing some serious heat by Houston’s hitters. After getting Michael Brantley to ground out, Rodón retired Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez in epic fashion. Bregman and Álvarez both swung and missed on 99 mph fastballs that ended Houston’s first-inning threat. It was unclear if Rodón would be at full strength after he averaged only 90.9 mph on his 4-seam fastballs during his most recent start (September 29 against the Reds). However, that dominant ending to the top of the first inning seemed to relieve any concerns.
The situation got better for the White Sox in the bottom of the second, when rookie Gavin Sheets stepped up to the plate. Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. threw a tough sinker that barely caught the inside edge to open the at-bat, but he made a mistake on the 0-1 pitch. Sheets took advantage of a knuckle curve that caught too much of the plate by launching a solo homer to center.
Unfortunately, Astros center fielder Jake Meyers had to leave the game due to an injury after trying to rob Sheets of a homer. Despite the injury, though, the crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field was lively. The White Sox suddenly had a 64.0% chance of forcing Game 5, per Baseball Savant. On top of that, McCullers had dominated the White Sox up until that point, including Game 1 in Houston. McCullers was the ace of Houston’s starting rotation this season, and he would have been unavailable in a potential winner-take-all Game 5. Vibes were good. Suddenly, the math was getting friendlier on the White Sox, even though they started the week down by two games in the best-of-five series.
Let’s just take a moment to enjoy this moment, because the rest of the game was a struggle.
Rodón went back to work in the top of the third, striking out catcher Martín Maldonado to open the inning. Rodón then hit Altuve, but he got Brantley to fly out for out No. 2. At that point, the wheels started to fall off. Altuve stole second, and Rodón issued back-to-back walks to Bregman and Álvarez to load the bases. That brought up Carlos Correa, who cashed in on the RBI opportunity. Correa’s double to left field scored a pair, and just like that, the Astros were in the driver’s seat, leading 2-1. That double also prompted a pitching change, as Michael Kopech took over on the mound. Rodón’s final line: 2 2⁄3 innings, two runs (both earned), three hits, two walks, and three strikeouts.
The Astros started to pull away in the fourth inning, and they wasted no time getting started. Kyle Tucker hit a leadoff single before stealing two bases. Just like that, an important insurance run was on third, with no outs. Kopech got Chas McCormick to ground out, but Maldonado singled up the middle to make it 3-1. That was Maldonado’s first hit of the series, and it was a big one. The worse news, however, is that the Astros were not done. Altuve singled, which led to another pitching change, as Garrett Crochet took over for Kopech. Despite getting Brantley to strike out for out No. 2, Crochet allowed Bregman to drive in a pair with a double to left-center. That made the score 5-1, and it dropped the South Siders’ chances of winning the game from 26.6% to 11.9%.
Crochet had not allowed any earned runs this series in 1 2⁄3 innings prior to his appearance in this game. However, he did not exactly fool Houston’s hitters, as the nine batters he faced had a slash line of .500/.556/.500 entering play today. Given how important it was to keep the deficit at two, Crochet likely was not the right choice in this situation. It was a poor thought process by Tony La Russa, and poor results followed.
If it is any consolation, that move certainly did not cost the White Sox the game. The Sox failed at too many other things to have a chance. To mount a comeback, Chicago needed at least some of the power they displayed during their victory in Game 3. Unfortunately, aside from Sheets, the White Sox did not get much production. Sheets went on to add a double to finish halfway to the cycle. Other than Sheets’ two extra base hits, though, the White Sox only got five singles, and they drew three walks — no other extra-base hits. They finished 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.
Meanwhile, the bullpen failed to keep the score respectable in the latter portion of the game. With the game starting to get out of hand, Brantley extended Houston’s lead with an RBI single in the sixth to make it 6-1. In the eighth, after an error by Tim Anderson, Brantley drove in yet another run, as Craig Kimbrel picked up an unearned run allowed. Then, Altuve rubbed salt in the wound in the ninth with a 416-foot home run off Liam Hendriks. That made the score 10-1, and the White Sox could not get on the board before game’s end.
With this loss, the South Side season came to a close. It was an exciting year, in which the White Sox won the AL Central, which they had not done since 2008. This afternoon’s loss was a tough way for the season to end, though.
Meanwhile, the Astros, far from the most honest team in baseball, advanced to their fifth consecutive ALCS. Funny, though, how dynasties are tarnished by trash.
The last five ALCS matchups:
– 2017: Astros vs Yankees
– 2018: Astros vs Red Sox
– 2019: Astros vs Yankees
– 2020: Astros vs Rays
– 2021: Astros vs Red Sox
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) October 12, 2021
It all might make sense to us when we’re older.
Regardless of the outcome, it has been a pleasure to write about this team for this great community here at South Side Sox. It will be interesting to see how the White Sox will proceed this offseason, and I look forward to taking it in.