The White Sox lost a 5-4 decision to the Twins at Target Field on Tuesday night in a game they could have and probably should have won.
Mercedes, who launched a 429-foot home run on a 3-0 pitch from catcher Willians Astudillo in the ninth inning -- when the White Sox led by 11 runs -- had a pitch thrown behind his legs by Twins reliever Tyler Duffey with one out and nobody on base in the seventh inning Tuesday. That apparent retaliation came after manager Tony La Russa said pregame that Mercedes made a “big mistake” with his 3-0 swing and explained how he ignored a take sign given to him by third-base coach Joe McEwing.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was ejected along with Duffey after an umpires’ conference near the pitcher’s mound, with shortstop Tim Anderson demonstratively waving them off the field from the White Sox dugout. But after his team’s first loss to the Twins in five head-to-head matchups this season, La Russa didn’t exactly see Duffey’s intent.
“That’s the umpire’s opinion. It wasn’t obvious to me,” La Russa said. “The guy threw a sinker. It didn’t look good. So I wasn’t that suspicious. I’m suspicious if somebody throws at somebody’s head. I don’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.
“You know, the umpire does his job. We do our job. I don’t ever second-guess the umpire’s judgement. I gave him my opinion. I didn’t have a problem with what the Twins did. I don’t second-guess Jim Reynolds. He’s one of the better umpires out there. I trust his judgement.”
La Russa was then asked if he was OK with the Twins’ actions because of the low location of Duffey’s pitch. But again, La Russa did not think there was direct intent.
“What did they do? The guy might have just been trying to get a sinker in,” La Russa said. “We don’t read minds. I’m not going to read their mind, and I’m not going to second-guess the umpire when it’s his judgement. [If] the ball was thrown at somebody’s head, then you don’t give anybody the benefit of the doubt.”
Jorge Polanco walked off the White Sox with a single to right against Liam Hendriks, though Aaron Bummer suffered the loss after giving up a leadoff single to Andrelton Simmons in the 9th. He also allowed Miguel Sanó to connect on his third home run of the night, a game-tying blast to right-center in the eighth.
Bummer had not given up a home run in 16 previous outings, carrying a 1.17 ERA into the contest. After the loss, the White Sox (25-16) fell to 9-3 in their current stretch of 13 straight contests against the Royals and Twins and watched their American League Central lead dip to 2 1/2 games over the Indians.
But the tough setback was supplanted by whether Mercedes violated some unwritten rule with his 3-0 blast. White Sox starter Lance Lynn, who allowed two runs on five hits over six innings and 109 pitches in Tuesday’s no-decision, provided an expert take on the situation.
"The more I play this game, the more those rules have gone away, and I understand it,” Lynn said. “The way I see it is, for position players on the mound, there are no rules. Let's get the damn game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happens, then put a pitcher out there. Can't get mad when there's a position player on the field and a guy takes a swing."
As for Duffey’s pitch to Mercedes, whose two hits Tuesday raised his average to a Major League-best .368, Lynn was surprised it happened.
“It's just one of those things where people are going to get their ideas of how they should do things,” Lynn said. “I’ve been in situations last year where [Fernando] Tatis did the 3-0 grand slam off of a pitcher that had 10 years in the big leagues [Juan Nicasio] and didn't throw another pitch in the big leagues after that, and everyone seemed to think that was fine.
“You're damned if you do, damned if you don't, it seems like. But I think everybody should just play the game as hard as they can and do all that, and don't worry about anything else."