HOUSTON -- The White Sox had one of the better offenses in the Majors in 2021, but they struggled to get much going against the Astros until late in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday.
Chicago, which scored the seventh-most runs in the Majors during the regular season, produced just one hit through the first six innings before the offense started to show some signs of life in a 6-1 loss at Minute Maid Park. The White Sox were held in check through 6 2/3 innings by right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., but registered five hits against Houston’s bullpen, including scoring in the eighth inning on an RBI single from José Abreu, who was questionable to play because of flu-like symptoms but went 2-for-4.
"I'm the kind of person that, when we lose, I like to focus on the positive,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I think everybody tried their best today. We get value in fighting. But we also have to recognize the work that the Astros did. Their pitcher was good, and they did a good job. We'll focus on tomorrow now."
Chicago didn't get its first hit until Yoán Moncada hit a one-out single the fourth, didn't get another hit until the seventh inning and didn’t score until the eighth. The White Sox were already trailing by three runs by the time they got their first hit, and were behind six runs heading into the eighth inning. But manager Tony La Russa was encouraged by his club’s at-bats late in the game.
"We're going to play nine innings,” La Russa said. “It's more fun when you've got something rolling, but you've really got to dig deep when you're not. One run on the board, but we made some things happen. Yeah, they made good pitches. It just solidifies within our club we played hard nine innings, and they beat us, but that's what we do."
The other good news for the White Sox is they face left-hander Framber Valdez in Game 2 on Friday, and Chicago fared well (going 25-17) against lefty starters this year. They also batted .269/.345/.449 against left-handed starters this season, compared to .252/.333/.413 against right-handed starters.
"Our club doesn't get discouraged,” La Russa said. “If they beat you, tip your cap, and you come out tomorrow. There's no doubt in my mind we'll come out ready to play."
The only White Sox batter to reach base safely through the first three innings was Luis Robert, who was hit on his right hand by a 94-mph fastball from McCullers in the second, but was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base. Moncada broke up the no-hitter with a clean single into center in the fourth, but he was stranded after Abreu and Yasmani Grandal grounded out.
Abreu, who hadn’t played in five days, served as the designated hitter and batted third. He looked a bit off early, but singled off McCullers to open the seventh and added an RBI single in the eighth off reliever Kendall Graveman.
"If I told you that I'm feeling 100 percent, I would be lying to you, but the training staff that we have, they've done a good job with me,” Abreu said. “The fight today was because of the commitment that I have with this team. I have to give my best to this team every day. It doesn't matter how I feel or how many days I went without playing. It was important for me and for the team for me to play today."
Grandal, though, followed with a double-play grounder after Abreu’s single in the seventh, halting any momentum. Robert singled to knock McCullers from the game and Eloy Jiménez followed with a single off reliever Phil Maton to give the White Sox their first runner in scoring position. But Gavin Sheets grounded out to end the inning.
Chicago relied on a two-out rally to get its first run against reliever Graveman in the eighth, when Tim Anderson singled and Moncada followed with a walk. Abreu brought home a run with an RBI single, but Grandal lined out to deep center on a 3-2 fastball to end the scoring threat.
“That's what I was talking about when I was trying to look at the positives of this game,” Abreu said. “I think in the last few innings we showed the kind of offense we have, the kind of offense we've been carrying throughout the whole season, and hopefully we can carry that for tomorrow.”