CHICAGO -- While the Chicago White Sox’s walk-off victory stole the show, the much maligned bullpen stood up and made itself noticed Tuesday.
The White Sox improved to 8-6 with the 2-1 victory, scoring the difference-maker in the ninth inning when Alexei Ramirez came in from second base on a throwing error to first base by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Had the throw to first been on the money instead of in the dirt, the game would have shifted into extra innings.
Making the rally possible, though, was the performance of a bullpen that had a 6.93 ERA over the first 13 games, the highest for a White Sox team since the 1973 bullpen had a 7.24 ERA over the same stretch of games.
New closer Matt Lindstrom has been far from sharp in the early going, while veteran newcomers Ronald Belisario and Scott Downs have been unable to reach past standards. Downs was at least able to contribute Tuesday with a scoreless inning that tells only part of the story.
The left-hander replaced starter Erik Johnson with runners on first and second base in the seventh inning of a tie game. Downs quickly retired Jackie Bradley Jr. on a strikeout to end the threat, and then retired the first two batters of the eighth inning before giving way to Jake Petricka.
“Everyone knows what kind of player [Downs] is,” Johnson said. “He’s been around for so long, he has the experience and he has the knowledge. I think for him it’s just a matter of time. You saw tonight that he was lights out.”
Before Tuesday’s outing, Downs had pitched five times in a White Sox uniform and failed to record an out in three of the outings. This time, he was able to set the tone for what was to come. Petricka got out of the eighth and recorded the first out of the ninth before allowing a walk to Mike Napoli.
Donnie Veal came on to record an out but hit A.J. Pierzynski with a slow breaking ball that put two runners on base. That threat was no problem for reliever Daniel Webb, who threw one pitch before getting a comebacker from pinch hitter Mike Carp to end another threat.
The White Sox then won it with their run in the ninth inning, with Webb picking up the victory.
“[Manager] Robin [Ventura] said it’s the easiest one I’ll ever get,” Webb said afterward. “First win, it doesn’t matter how you got it. It feels good. I got the lineup card, and I think they are getting the ball.”
He also got the traditional beer shower from his teammates after recording his first major league victory.
“It was nice,” Ventura said of the bullpen’s night. “It started off with Erik, he was as good as he’s pitched this year. He was sharp, and the ball was coming out with life. The bullpen coming in and doing what they did, you know that’s what you are looking for. It was sharp. Downs came in and did his job. Everyone came in and did the job. They give you an opportunity to score runs.”
Maybe Webb hasn’t been around a long time –- Tuesday was his 14th career outing and fifth on the season –- but he knew a much-needed group effort when he saw one.
“I don’t know if that was pressure since everybody wants to do well,” Webb said. “The older guys want to do well just like the younger guys want to do well. We had our struggles early, but tonight we showed that we can pitch well.
“Coming out tonight like that, everybody pitched well, and it was a good team win.”