HOUSTON -- White Sox manager Tony La Russa was watching the 2004 American League Championship Series during an NLCS off-day for his Cardinals when he heard then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona make a profound statement after losing a third straight game to the Yankees.
“Francona said, ‘All we have to do is just win one game,’” La Russa said. “When he said that, that's a good thing to say. It makes sense. So this is a must-win.”
Boston won its next four against New York and then swept St. Louis to win the 2004 World Series. The White Sox will try to become the 11th team to erase an 0-2 deficit in a five-game Division Series and become the first team to do so since the ‘17 Yankees.
That challenge is a tough one, especially against a Houston team pushing for its fifth straight ALCS appearance with airtight defense and the ability not to chase out of the strike zone. The White Sox are down, but they certainly don’t seem defeated.
“Our backs are against the wall right now,” White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said. “We know what we've got to do, and we've got to take care of business. We have to keep fighting and keep pushing.”
“We've got to win three games in a row,” said White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, who allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2. “It wouldn't be the first time that happened this year. So like T.A. said, we just keep battling.”
Friday’s seventh inning was the turning point and stood as a microcosm of these first two games.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Yasmani Grandal -- as he had done so many times this season -- hit a line drive to right off Houston reliever Ryne Stanek. But Kyle Tucker made a great catch on the fly ball, which had a 101.8 mph exit velocity per Statcast, keeping the game tied at four.
Left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer came in for the bottom of the seventh with the highest ground-ball rate (76.1 %) among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched this season. He got grounders from Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez, sandwiched around an Alex Bregman line drive up the middle that deflected into center after Bummer just missed grabbing it.
All three resulted in singles, giving the Astros a 5-4 lead. Carlos Correa followed with a two-run double off Craig Kimbrel over the head of right fielder Leury García, who broke in and then turned around in pursuit of the 106.1 mph shot, and Kyle Tucker capped off the five-run frame with a home run to left.
Kimbrel had a 5.09 ERA over 24 games primarily as a setup man with the White Sox after being acquired from the Cubs, with whom he was a closer. But La Russa had an interesting explanation for the right-hander’s struggles on Friday.
“Again, I hate doing it, but you take it however you want to,” La Russa said. “It's not an explanation or an excuse. It's not his situation. He willingly got ready to come in there and pitch. It's a different situation.
“So, he is his résumé. I hope we're ahead on Sunday, and I think you'll see what he's done his whole career.”
With everything on the line come Sunday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox will need every player on the roster to step up and win that one game. They need to get the ball in the air, with 18 hits in this series and not one for extra bases.
The White Sox need to believe the comeback is possible after winning 93 games and the AL Central during the regular season.
“Take the attitude, the effort level, the talent we've got, and Sunday find a way to win,” La Russa said. “Then you're down one and win another one. So it could be done.”
“It ain't over,” said Anderson, whose 13 hits through his five career postseason games set a Major League record. “We've still got a shot. We competed at a high level. We know things will get better.”
Those things could get better at home, where the White Sox have an AL-best 53-28 record.
“I'm excited for our fans. I know they've been waiting for it,” Giolito said. “Yeah, I think they'll show out pretty good on Sunday.”
“I'd rather be in [Houston's] position, but I know our club,” La Russa said “We'll put together a winning effort. Hopefully, the score reflects that.”