Realistically, the odds are still long that the White Sox can do enough damage the rest of the way and get themselves into the postseason, but the team’s body language isn’t one that suggests a daunting task is ahead.
Even after reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer had Chicago in handcuffs for his first career complete game, the White Sox focused on solid defense, the opportunities that were there for the taking and the fact that they just won two out of three from the American League Central leaders.
“It’s always nice when you come in and win a series,” said Thursday’s losing pitcher, Chris Sale. “When you have a chance to sweep, you want to [do it]. But winning the series is important. You win every series and put yourself in a good position.”
In beating another former Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander on Wednesday, the White Sox looked empowered. That feeling didn’t seem to diminish much after Thursday’s game, because their conclusion was that they caught a great pitcher on a night when he had his best stuff.
“Early, I felt like he lost some of his command, but we as hitters knowing how good he is, we chased a lot of pitches,” said Adam Eaton, who went 0-for-3 with a walk. “It seemed like the fourth, fifth inning he really found his groove and I feel like as hitters we felt that. He had it going tonight and I think the line speaks for itself.”
That Scherzer line was three hits over nine innings with three walks and eight strikeouts. The first White Sox hit didn’t come until Alexei Ramirez doubled in the fourth inning, and the third hit, in the ninth, only came via replay when Tigers left fielder J.D. Martinez was ruled to have trapped a ball hit by Adam Dunn.
“He has the stuff,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Scherzer. “Stuff-wise, he definitely has it. I think any time you’re a team going into it thinking he doesn’t have it, you’ll find out real quick that he does have the stuff to still win [the Cy Young] and win games and be very good.”
Sale formed the other side of a pitchers’ duel that was ultimately decided when the first combatant blinked. Victor Martinez's home run off Sale in the fifth inning ended up being the difference, with the Tigers tacking on three insurance runs against the White Sox bullpen.
“He was dominant,” Sale said of Scherzer. “That’s about all you can say about him. You know coming into this who you are going up against and it’s not going to be easy. For a long time there, it was who was going to flinch first. Unfortunately it was me.”
It’s funny how quickly perception changes. A dominating pitching performance against the White Sox last year was as much about the pitcher as it was about the weak offensive attack opposing him. This year, there is more of a sense that the pitchers truly earn what they get against a much-improved White Sox offense.
“Yeah, he was good; he had good stuff,” said Gordon Beckham, who doubled and is hitting .400 [8-for-20] during a modest five-game hitting streak. “It is what it is, he just had our number. He kept his pitch count low and was able to go the whole game. It would have been nice to knock him out but he was just too good tonight. Give him credit. I don't think we had two bad at-bats. We were up there battling, doing the right thing. It just didn't work out.”
There is anticipation for a new day now, and that shows as much about the progress the White Sox have made as anything. They are still just 33-34 on the season, but are looking forward to the next test, over the weekend against the second-place Kansas City Royals.
“We ran into a guy that was great tonight but in the end you look at it as you won the series, which is good,” Ventura said. “That's something that we're always shooting for. Tip your hat to him and get ready for tomorrow.”