Wild 8th inning lights fire under White Sox

August 16th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Pardon the possible hyperbole, but the White Sox four-run eighth during a 4-2 victory over the Astros Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field just might be their most significant inning in a rather uneven 2022 season.

It also might turn out to be their most important victory, as the White Sox moved to 60-56 with their fourth straight win and crept within two games of the American League Central-leading Guardians.

“This win today just confirms that we have a very good team,” White Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada said through interpreter Billy Russo after delivering the game-winning single. “We have to believe in that, and the people around the team have to believe in that, too.”

“We come back today and that’s what we need to do in every game,” said Johnny Cueto, the White Sox winning pitcher, after allowing two runs (one earned) over eight outstanding innings. “Just try to compete and have the same energy level and excitement that we had today.”

Cueto gave the White Sox a chance to win, but with two outs in the eighth, nobody on base and José Urquidy shutting down the South Siders, it looked as if Cueto’s 15th start out of 16 to last at least six innings was coming up empty. Then it all began with AJ Pollock’s infield hit, a swinging bunt that third baseman Alex Bregman couldn’t grab with his bare hand.

Houston manager Dusty Baker pulled Urquidy at 94 pitches and went to setup man Rafael Montero, who didn’t retire a single White Sox hitter. Andrew Vaughn followed with a double to right on a 2-2 four-seam fastball, after he swung through the same pitch with the count at 2-1.

With runners at second and third, Eloy Jiménez fell behind at 0-2 by swinging through two sinkers. The third sinker was low and inside, but Jiménez pulled it for a game-tying double just beyond Bregman’s diving attempt.

“I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit,” Jiménez said. “That wasn’t a good pitch to hit, but I still thank God I had the ability to keep that ball fair.”

“Just a lot of tough at-bats that we're capable of,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “We've done it before, and we did it tonight."

José Abreu was issued an intentional walk with first base open and Yasmani Grandal drew a walk to load the bases for Moncada. The switch-hitter, who has a .199 average and .580 OPS for the season, took a first-pitch, center-cut fastball from Montero and ripped it to center field to make a winner out of Cueto.

Despite Montero struggling with the strike zone, Moncada still was first-pitch swinging. But it worked for the White Sox.

“I went out there just looking for fastballs. I wasn’t looking for anything else. Just fastballs,” Moncada said. “He threw me a fastball and I was able to put the barrel on the ball. It feels good. It made me feel excited, and it’s something that definitely puts your confidence level [high] and makes you feel very good.”

“It's a beautiful game,” La Russa said of Moncada’s first-pitch swinging. “Can you figure it? He wasn't thinking walk on bases loaded."

Chicago has not been more than four games over .500 this season, and is as close as its been to accomplishing that since boasting a 6-2 record on April 16. More importantly, the club has won six straight at Guaranteed Rate and eight of its last nine.

Following a dismal road trip to Texas and Kansas City, the White Sox are starting to look more like the playoff team everyone envisioned at the season’s outset. They are getting the job done without starting shortstop Tim Anderson (finger surgery) and center fielder Luis Robert, who is sidelined by a sprained left thumb but should be back during this four-game series.

Yes, it was just one win, just one late rally. But it came against the AL’s best team and against the team that eliminated the White Sox from the 2021 playoffs. It might be exactly what La Russa’s crew needed.

“All these games are playoff games and we need to be prepared to compete,” Cueto said. “We have to forget where we are right now. We just have to keep playing hard and try to win every game. We don’t have to be looking at the standings right now. We have to play hard and see what will happen at the end.”