CHICAGO -- Hope and despair.
The whirlwind that is the Chicago White Sox's playoff chances has been spun each and every way by the day -- and sometimes even by moment -- over the last week, and Saturday was no different.
A day after gaining some optimism back with their own win and a Detroit Tigers loss, the White Sox endured an assortment of emotions Saturday, and in the end were dealt another difficult blow to their playoff chances.
The afternoon began with the Tigers putting themselves in a favorable position by scoring two early runs on the Minnesota Twins. As that score flashed every few minutes on U.S. Cellular Field’s scoreboard, White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale was doing his best to work out of jams in the first and second innings. He accomplished that, and the White Sox remained tied 0-0 after two innings.
Sale’s escape act wasn’t so successful in the third inning. A leadoff walk by Sale came around to score on a double, and Jeff Keppinger struck a two-run homer to put the Rays ahead 3-0.
One inning later, the Rays greatly minimized the White Sox’s chances of a win by piling on two more runs and knocking Sale out of the game.
Ventura turned to his rarely-used relievers after Sale, and the Rays continued to accumulate runs and built a 10-0 advantage. The White Sox’s offense has shown little sign of life the past few weeks, and there was no awakening it on Saturday. The White Sox’s only runs came on a grand slam by Orlando Hudson in the eighth inning.
Ventura hasn’t publicly criticized his team often this season, but Saturday’s lopsided defeat resulted in some rare words from his mouth.
“Other than (Sale’s surprising struggles), we stunk,” Ventura said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were strengthening their lead to 6-0 with the help of a three-run home run by Miguel Cabrera.
But just as the Tigers and their starting pitcher Justin Verlander appeared as if they were going to coast to a victory, the Tigers turned to their bullpen, and things got interesting and gave the White Sox some brief hope.
First, reliever Joaquin Benoit allowed a grand slam to Ryan Doumit to make it a 6-4 game in the eighth inning. Instantly, that game was given as much as attention in the White Sox’s press box as the one being played before the media.
The Tigers then allowed runners on the corners, putting the go-ahead run at the plate. Pedro Florimon couldn’t make the White Sox’s day, though, and struck out to finish off the inning.
The drama didn’t end there. Tigers closer Jose Valverde allowed a leadoff walk to Denard Span in the ninth inning. After back-to-back outs, Span reached second base on a defensive indifference. And just minutes after the White Sox entered the clubhouse following their loss. Valverde got Justin Morneau to fly out to center field to give the Tigers a 6-4 win.
And now the White Sox face the reality of trailing by two games with four games to go. Even if the White Sox win out, which could be difficult with David Price taking the mound for the Rays on Sunday, they need the Twins and Kansas City Royals to find ways to defeat the Tigers at least twice in the next four days.
Despite their odds, the White Sox are still clinging to the little hope they can possess.
“We have to win every game and hope that Detroit loses a couple,” White Sox right fielder Alex Rios said. “That’s what has to happen.”
White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said, “Just keep playing hard. That’s one thing about today. Even though we got our butts kicked, we still fought. … We’re not quitting. It just wasn’t our day to win.”
Sale may have said it best.
“I’m not too good at math, so I'm not paying attention to that,” Sale said. “Just like I said, got to grind it out and play some good baseball. Hopefully pull it out in the end.”