Engel’s clutch hit lifts White Sox in a pinch

September 15th, 2020

CHICAGO -- No playoff berth was on the line during the White Sox 3-1 victory over the Twins on Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But the atmosphere, even with pumped-in crowd noise replacing fans in the stands, sure felt like postseason baseball.

“I don’t know what the starters felt like, but being a bench guy, it feels like you are living and dying on every pitch,” said , whose pinch-hit single in the eighth drove home the game-winning run. “You have a lot of emotion going with every pitch. A lot of guys say at the end of a playoff game [that] everybody is mentally and emotionally exhausted. Tonight wasn’t the real thing per se, but it felt pretty similar to that.”

“It was awesome, it was a lot of fun,” said reliever , who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. “Pretty proud of the group tonight. It’s pretty exciting right now.”

Engel drove in after Taylor Rogers walked Moncada and to start the inning, as the White Sox moved two games in front of the Twins in the American League Central and reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to four.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria had put the bunt on for Engel, but during an ensuing Twins mound visit, Renteria told Engel to pull back and swing away if the middle infielders vacated. Engel fouled off the first bunt on the first pitch from Rogers, then in one motion, pulled back his bat and slapped a single to center on the next pitch, a 93.4-mph sinker.

“First pitch, I obviously didn’t get it down,” Engel said. “I looked up and saw the shortstop had vacated. At that point, I was trying to square a little bit early on the second attempt to see if they did the same thing, and the shortstop vacated again, so I pulled back and just tried to hit a ground ball up the middle.”

’s double -- his third hit of the game -- gave Chicago a little breathing room and raised his Major League-leading batting average to .369. Both teams had numerous chances to take control in this first of four games between the division’s top two teams, but they finished a combined 5-for-26 with runners in scoring position. The White Sox ability to retire Nelson Cruz, who has 11 home runs and 34 RBIs against Chicago in the past two seasons, was a key to keeping the game close.

Cruz grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and third and one out in the third against starter and struck out swinging against reliever with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. then pitched out of trouble in the eighth, retiring Cruz on a grounder to Anderson after walking Josh Donaldson to load the bases.

The Twins put their leadoff hitter on base in each of the first six innings but scored just once. The White Sox became the first team since the Giants against the Dodgers on May 31, 2013, to allow 18 or more baserunners but only one run in a nine-inning game. They have done that only one other time in team history, a 2-1 win over Boston on April 28, 1973.

“Kind of the edge of the sword tonight,” Marshall said. “Fortunately we were able to come out on the good side of that.”

“Our pitching and our defense, if they can do that against a team like this, we would expect to win a lot of ballgames,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Tonight, it just wasn’t in the cards. But they’re always going to make you work. It’s never easy when you play against a good offense like this.”

Cease allowed one run over his 4 2/3 innings, struck out four and walked five on 99 pitches. Chicago pitchers walked 10, becoming the first team to walk 10 or more and allow one or zero runs in a nine-inning game since the Cardinals on Sept. 28, 2015. But in this 2020 season that becomes more special for the White Sox by the day, they made it work.

“If we can play some really good baseball over the next three days, I think that will help our confidence going into the playoffs,” Engel said. “Obviously, just playing good baseball against a good baseball team is huge.”

"That game was a great preview of what [the playoffs] would be like,” Cease said. “Every pitch felt important, every play felt important. It was a really fun game to watch and be a part of."