CHICAGO -- Sergio Santos’ epic blown save Friday night against the Oakland A's seemed to come out of nowhere, except there was plenty of evidence it was lingering on the horizon.
The White Sox’s closer -- even though manager Ozzie Guillen hasn’t officially given him the title -- had started to spring some leaks after his 16 consecutive scoreless appearances to start the season.
There were the four runs he gave on five hits in 1 1/3 innings of a loss to the Dodgers on May 20. But that was followed by six scoreless (and hitless) outings, five of which earned him a save.
Then came Santos’ outing Tuesday against the Mariners when he had trouble with everything but his changeup and took the loss after giving up three runs in one inning.
Guillen had such a bad feeling about Friday's outing, despite a two-run lead heading into the ninth inning, that he didn’t bother to replace right fielder Carlos Quentin with Brent Lillibridge for defensive purposes. Quentin was due up third in the bottom of the ninth.
It actually looked like there wouldn’t be an issue at all when Santos recorded a quick two outs and had Josh Willingham in an 0-2 hole. But Willingham fought back for a walk, Hideki Matsui delivered an RBI single after Willingham advanced to second and the inning started to snowball. When it was over Santos had given up four runs on two hits, three walks and a hit batter.
“I couldn’t put them away,” Santos said. “I got out there, two outs, went 0-2 and just couldn’t put them away. When I walked (Willingham), same thing. I had Matsui 0-2 and just couldn’t put him away. Unexcusable. I didn’t do it.
Guillen said Santos might have been too aggressive.
“I mean, no, there’s no excuse,” Santos said. “I just flat-out didn’t get the job done. I don’t even know what to say.”
It seems obvious that there is a problem with Santos’ slider. It’s not only that he can’t throw his best pitch for an effective strike, he doesn’t seem to be able to get a grip on it. He threw one to the backstop, appeared to hit Kurt Suzuki with another and a third went for Matsui’s RBI single.
“I just didn’t have a feel for it,” Santos said. “I did but I just couldn’t repeat it consistently. That ended up kind of messing me up because it’s usually my put-away pitch. I couldn’t do it to Willingham. I tried three times and nothing.”
In shades of the April bullpen struggles, the White Sox have now lost five games when leading after the eighth inning. Santos seemed to be the answer they were looking for at closer and now the ninth inning will be breath-holding time again.
“This one hurt to be honest with you,” Guillen said. “I’m not going to lie. He just lost it. I was kind of worried about having Matsui at the plate in that inning. But he just lost it. He tried to be too aggressive. It was the type of thing you have to learn with experience. This kid doesn’t have much experience.”
Indeed Santos is in just his third season as a pitcher after making the transition over from the infield. Worried about that inexperience, Guillen went with Matt Thornton as closer out of spring training to largely negative results.
Where do the White Sox go to close out games? Guillen is intent on giving Santos another chance, just not Saturday. Jesse Crain will probably be the closer for the day on Saturday primarily because Santos threw 38 pitches Friday.
“I’m not going to lose any confidence in him because of a game,” Guillen said. “He has to learn from that. Hopefully this game will make him tougher and make him learn from this and forget about today and get it tomorrow.”
Well not the literal tomorrow but the figurative one. Santos is ready for the challenge.
“I mean, I wish I could go out and get the job done every time but that’s not possible,” Santos said. “So I’ve got to be ready tomorrow and for whenever they call on me or whatever the situation is, I’ll be ready to go out and do my job.
“I’m sure I’ll get a couple of hours of sleep and just kind of going over everything. As soon as I wake up in the morning it’s kind of forgotten and I’ve got to come here and get my work in and be prepared.”