CHICAGO -- Things aren’t just ugly for the Chicago White Sox these days, they are starting to get downright cruel.
The latest defeat -- the White Sox’s 10th in their last 11 tries -- could be boiled down to three key moments: the grand slam given up by Chris Sale, the failed bunt by Alexei Ramirez and the home run that was robbed from Conor Gillaspie. It ended in a 4-3 victory for the Oakland Athletics, their 18th in their last 21 games.
The White Sox handed their staff ace a three-run lead after five innings before the first dose of cruelty cropped up in the sixth. Two A’s singles in the fifth inning should have put runners on first and second, but an error by center fielder Alejandro De Aza on Jed Lowrie's single put runners on the corners with one out.
Trying to be careful with Yoenis Cespedes, who hit two home runs Thursday night, Sale gave up a walk to load the bases. Josh Donaldson followed with a deep drive to right on a 1-1 pitch for his first career grand slam to give the A’s a 4-3 lead.
“It (stinks),” Sale said. “It just shows you how important one pitch can be in a ballgame. Off the bat I figured it was going to be a sacrifice fly or something. It just kept going. He got a hold of it more than I thought he did.”
For Sale, who entered the game with an 11-1 record and a 1.82 ERA over his last 15 home starts, the home run ended his 17-inning scoreless streak at U.S. Cellular Field. He had retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced on the night.
“They battled him hard that inning and that was obviously the only bad inning he had,” said pitching coach Don Cooper, who was the acting manager for the night with both Robin Ventura and Mark Parent tending to family matters.
“That (April 13) game in Cleveland he had another inning like that, so basically all year he’s had two bad innings all season. It was a stressful inning and he had to get after it. There were some nice at-bats there by those guys and they ran the pitch total up a little bit and obviously they got four. It was one bad inning.”
The White Sox still had their chances, though. But with runners on first and second with no outs in the eighth inning, Ramirez popped up his attempted sacrifice bunt. Alex Rios then popped out and Adam Dunn flied out to end the threat.
“I just tried to get the bunt down and it just went up,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “I just couldn’t get the job done today. I just have to come back working hard tomorrow. I have to do it all over again tomorrow.”
Perhaps the biggest gut-wrenching moment, though, came in the ninth inning when Gillaspie appeared to have tied it with a home run to right field. But A’s right fielder Josh Reddick timed his leap perfectly and snagged Gillaspie’s drive at the wall.
It was shades of Thursday night when Dunn appeared to hit a game-winning two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning only for the drive to die at the wall.
“There is not really anywhere to point the blame,” Gillaspie said. “It’s just the way things are going. We’re all trying. It’s frustrating. There really aren’t a whole lot of words that can describe how disheartening this is.”
The last two games have summed up a season where the White Sox can’t take advantage of opportunities and can’t catch a break.
“It sure does (seem like it), doesn’t it?” said Flowers, whose first home run since May 2 was among his three on the night to match a career high. “We just seem to keep coming up short. It was another quality game to watch but not a good one to be a part of when you come out on the losing end. Sale threw the ball great with the exception of really one pitch.”
One pitch, one failed bunt, one lost home run at the wall.
“It seems like when things ain’t going right, something will come up and it seems like it works against you,” Cooper said. “We have to try to fight against getting discouraged when it happens because we have our best guy out there, things are looking good, all of the sudden they ain't looking so good. But we did battle back there. We were battling back.
“Not getting the bunt down, that don't help, giving the other team an out right there. We would have had the go-ahead run on second base. I like our chances there. But it didn't happen and it's not from lack of effort. That's what's going on now. I didn’t see people not trying, not hustling. It just seems like right now when we're not going that good, anything that can go wrong seems to.”