Sharp early, Norris endures rough sixth in defeat
Righty gives up four runs in frame as Astros are denied home sweep
HOUSTON -- Astros ace Bud Norris sat alone on the bench in the bottom of the sixth inning with his head down, while occasionally glancing up to show a look of pure disbelief. The fact Norris needed some time to digest what happened earlier in the inning was certainly warranted.
Norris was cruising through five scoreless innings and was one out away from finishing the sixth unscathed when the White Sox loaded the bases with three consecutive well-placed ground-ball singles. That set the stage for Dayan Viciedo to clear the bases with a three-run triple that sent the White Sox to a 4-2 win over the Astros on Monday night at Minute Maid Park.
"That's the game-changer right there," said Norris about his hanging slider. "That's a three-run triple and that changes the game and we lose, 4-2. That's how minute and small these things come down to every day for us on a big league, grand scale, and it's very unfortunate and frustrating when little things don't go your way."
The White Sox avoided getting swept in four games by tagging Norris with his third consecutive loss, though Monday ended his string of five consecutive quality starts. He was 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his five starts prior to facing the White Sox for the first time in his career.
"That one inning kind of got them the four runs, but at the same time, we had an opportunity to get right back in it and failed to get the big hit," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Give those guys a lot of credit. They fought hard tonight to get this game."
The Astros certainly weren't without their chances. They were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, including strikeouts by Jason Castro, J.D. Martinez and Chris Carter after Brandon Barnes (3-for-5) and Jose Altuve (2-for-5) began the seventh with consecutive singles.
Left-hander Matt Thornton struck out Castro, the only batter he faced, and Jesse Crain whiffed Martinez and Carter swinging to strand the runners. Crain threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, making his 27th consecutive scoreless appearance to tie a White Sox record.
"It's exciting," said Crain, who played at the University of Houston. "It's just another day and I'll try to take the next day as it comes and go pitch by pitch. It's exciting to have your name in the record book. I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I'm back out there."
Castro had RBI doubles in the first and third innings to give the Astros a 2-0 lead against Chicago starter Jose Quintana, who was chased after 4 2/3 innings. Norris, meanwhile, was in total control through five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks.
"I was in a groove and obviously the sixth inning was very frustrating," Norris said.
With two outs and a runner at first base, Adam Dunn rolled a single up the middle to put runners on the corners. Paul Konerko followed with a comebacker that went under the glove and between the legs of Norris to allow the White Sox to cut the lead to 2-1.
Conor Gillaspie followed with a grounder that Altuve fielded cleanly in the hole at second and threw to Norris covering first, but the pitcher lost the ball in the lights. The play was scored an infield hit, and Norris later said it should have been an error on him. Regardless, the bases were loaded with two outs.
"I felt I let a couple of balls really go through that that inning, and that's how it goes sometimes," Norris said.
Viciedo then sent a fly ball onto the warning track in center field that landed just out of the reach of a diving Barnes and rolled up Tal's Hill for a three-run triple to gave the White Sox a 4-2 lead. Barnes made a nice diving catch on a ball Viciedo hit to nearly the same part of the ballpark Sunday with the bases empty, but he couldn't duplicate the feat.
"With that guy out there, you're thinking there's a chance anytime a ball's hit in his direction," Porter said. "That ball was squared up pretty good and he gave it all in his effort. If Brandon Barnes is not going to catch it, there's not many guys that will."
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said his team got lucky with the placement of some balls in the sixth inning.
"But, again, when you put guys in situations with a lot of guys on, it becomes different where the bases are loaded and guys are standing all over the place," he said. "It was good for us to put pressure on them and Tank [Viciedo] finally comes through."
Castro (2-for-5) said he and Norris were trying to get Viciedo to swing at the same slider they struck him out on in the fifth, but the slider this time had a bit more spin and than it did movement.
"He put a good swing on it, and you have to give him credit for that," Castro said. "It's unfortunate that inning really got to him. He had a great at-bat and one pitch changed that inning."