There was no hiding the White Sox shock following Jordan Luplow’s walk-off home run, which produced a 3-2 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. That setback knocked them one-half game behind the Twins in the American League Central, with Minnesota claiming a 7-6 victory over Detroit at Target Field.
“Pretty rough. A walk-off homer two nights in a row is not a good feeling,” said White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, who finished with a no-decision after six stellar innings. “But it is what it is.”
“It's tough. It's tough,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “I'm not going to lie, because we're still trying to continue to move forward.”
The White Sox (34-22) clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 with a victory last Thursday over the Twins (35-22). They seemed in control of the AL Central, with a solid chance to get the No. 1 seed overall, and Cleveland (32-24) only could be in the division picture via a four-game sweep at Progressive Field.
Three Cleveland victories later, the tiebreaker scenarios are now being discussed for these three teams as the Tribe has climbed within two of Renteria’s struggling crew. The White Sox and Twins are a wash for the first tiebreaker -- head-to-head records between clubs -- with a 5-5 mark, but Chicago holds the edge over Minnesota for the second tiebreaker with a better record within the AL Central. The Indians have the tiebreaker over the White Sox because of their 7-2 head-to-head mark, while the Twins hold the same over the Indians for that reason.
In case of a three-way tie, the Twins win out by virtue of their best combined record against the other two. But after losing a second straight game in which they played pretty well, all the White Sox can focus on is trying to salvage one on Thursday night.
“They understand where we're at,” Renteria said. “They understand we need to play better or at least have the outcomes that show better.”
“At the end of the day, we just need to play the baseball that we know we can play,” Giolito said. “And for us to do that, it takes us being relaxed, being loose, having fun. There's going to be pressure, but kind of embracing it, as opposed to letting it get to us.”
Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and Giolito could match up again this Tuesday during the first game of the AL Wild Card Series. But their opening act Wednesday will be a tough one to beat.
Bieber allowed one unearned run and struck out 10 over five innings and 98 pitches, dropping his final season ERA to 1.63 as the clear-cut AL Cy Young Award favorite. Giolito hurled a career-high 119 pitches over six innings, yielding two runs, while reaching double-digit strikeouts with 11 for the 10th time in his career and the third time this season.
Both No. 1 starters had to pitch out of tough moments to keep the game close. Bieber struck out José Abreu with runners on first and third to end the fifth, while Giolito worked around a 36-pitch third, striking out Carlos Santana to strand the bases loaded.
“I had a feeling that it would be relatively low-scoring through the early innings, and I just had to go out there and do my job,” Giolito said. “I had a big focus on execution today, back to the one-pitch mentality. This pitch, execute this one. It's over. On to the next one. That worked out pretty well for me. Obviously Bieber did his thing and we kept it close, and unfortunately, it didn't go our way at the end."
“You still have to play these games to win,” said Cleveland acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “They've seen our pitchers, we've seen them, also. We're not hiding relievers or [anything] like that; neither are they. There's no secret, because we've seen each other a lot. They have taken a good look at our guys, and we've taken a good look at theirs. We'll see what happens.”
Abreu tied the game in the eighth with a sacrifice fly for his Major League-leading 57th RBI, scoring Yoán Moncada, who tripled to open the frame off James Karinchak. But much as José Ramírez connected off José Ruiz on Tuesday, Luplow -- who has fared much better hitting left-handers -- did the same damage against southpaw Gio González. It’s now time for the fourth-seeded White Sox to regroup.
“It's going to take us playing loose, playing relaxed, playing to have fun,” Giolito said. “That's what we were doing all year, and we were winning a lot of games. We know how good we are. And so we just need to kind of maintain that mentality going forward. I think we'll be in a good spot."