South Siders' title hopes end in first round

October 13th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The 2021 season was not supposed to end this way for the White Sox.

Not for a team with this much talent. Not for a team brimming with confidence after winning its first American League Central title since 2008 and learning valuable postseason lessons from last year’s three-game Wild Card Series loss in Oakland.

But Houston’s 10-1 victory Tuesday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field pushed the Astros to their fifth straight AL Championship Series by winning three of four games in this best-of-five ALDS. It also left the White Sox without a playoff series victory since their World Series championship in ’05.

While the White Sox couldn’t build on Sunday night’s victory in front of an energetic, oftentimes overwhelmingly engaged sold-out crowd, they should be able to build on their first back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history. Whether they will do it under manager Tony La Russa remains to be seen.

La Russa, who is under contract, didn’t want to talk about himself after the tough loss, a code he has stuck to for most of the season. Instead, he explained a process followed in the past in regard to his managing future.

“Well, once I had a little security, probably about the fifth or sixth year, it’s do they want you back? You don't want to come back [only] because you got a contract. I would just leave if they don't want you back,” La Russa said. “They say yes, then you ask the players.

“You know? They should choose who they want to manage. If you get both of those, then you check yourself.”

Before closing the topic, La Russa added, “I mean, we have more to do.”

That next step for the White Sox is winning a World Series championship, or multiple World Series championships, as discussed by general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams. But after being a very good team in a less-than-stellar division, they did not stack up against the Astros.

In this particular series, their top-notch starting pitching allowed 14 runs over 12 1/3 innings, with Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón, respectively, failing to complete at least five innings in each start.

Gavin Sheets, an emerging rookie presence during the present campaign, homered and doubled against Lance McCullers Jr., but the White Sox offense managed little else.

Coming up short in the ALDS, though, doesn’t diminish what the team accomplished.

“We accomplished the first goal, but we are disappointed to get one win and not two more,” La Russa said. “So, bittersweet.”

“It was a fun ride,” said Rodón, who took the loss after allowing two runs on three hits over 2 2/3 innings. “It ended a little short ... but, you know, we enjoyed the time together.”

Rodón’s breakout season was one of the many highlights for the South Siders. Now, whether to bring back the impending free agent becomes one of the important decisions the White Sox have to make.

It was a season defined by working through key injuries to left fielder Eloy Jiménez, who suffered a ruptured left pectoral tendon in Spring Training, and center fielder Luis Robert, who tore his right hip flexor in a game against the Indians on May 2.

Both players returned and contributed to the White Sox success. On Tuesday, though, Robert was back in the clubhouse after being replaced by Adam Engel in the top of the seventh due to right leg tightness.

La Russa’s first season in his second tenure with the White Sox brought plenty of exciting moments, including a playoff contest Sunday that most fans will never forget. It just wasn’t the ultimate success envisioned by the players or the organization.

“It's a learning experience for all of us, but we got a big taste of what it's like to play at home in the playoffs, and I don't think anybody is going to forget today and Sunday night, you know, just what it was like; the crowd, the black-out, the support,” Sheets said. “That burns a fire, and that makes you want to do it again and with a different outcome.”

“You play 162 games to experience these playoff moments,” Rodón said. “We have the taste for it, and I think we're going to be pretty hungry trying to get back to where we're at and exceed where we were this year.”