Tony La Russa did not sound like a manager whose team just dropped a gut-wrenching 7-4 decision to the Angels in walk-off fashion Sunday night at Angel Stadium.
La Russa did not sound like a man whose team, holding championship aspirations coming into the 2021 season, dropped three of four games played against a very talented squad from Anaheim. Maybe 60 years in the game, 34 years managing and three World Series titles provides more than a little perspective in the course of a 162-game season.
“I just told them upstairs, this is one of the most impressive losses that I can remember being a part of,” said La Russa in his postgame Zoom with reporters. “You look at all the stuff that went on in that game. I’m not going to say hero, I reserve that for the veterans, but the courageous stuff, the way Dylan [Cease] battled, you can go on and on.
“We played our guys, even in the end, the fact that they didn’t give in, didn’t give up, is to me a great sign of the toughness and the guts that this club has as we go forward. I can’t remember ever feeling better about a loss than this one, and this is a tough loss, for those reasons.”
Everything La Russa said was accurate.
Cease, who struck out 11 in his final Cactus League start against the Rockies on Tuesday, struggled in the first inning of Sunday night’s primetime contest. He threw 30 pitches and allowed two runs, including opposing pitcher Shohei Ohtani’s first-pitch 451-foot blast to right.
Then, the right-hander settled down after escaping the first, allowing three runs in total over 4 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking three on 92 pitches.
“Really, I wanted to get through five. I just tried to pound the zone,” Cease said. “If I'm a little sharper, we probably get through it. At the end of the day, I kept us in there. So I'm decently happy with that.
“It's all a process. I expect more out of myself, and I think there will be better times ahead."
Ohtani looked overpowering during much of his first start. As mentioned by Leury García, who replaced an injured Tim Anderson at shortstop in the first inning, Ohtani was nasty.
Yet the White Sox kept fighting after falling into a 3-0 hole. In fact, they managed to tie the game with three runs in the fifth via a Nick Madrigal single to center, two two-out walks, a wild pitch, a Max Stassi passed ball on Yoán Moncada’s swinging third strike and Stassi’s throwing error trying to nail Moncada at first.
For the game, the White Sox finished 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. But when closer Raisel Iglesias threw away Adam Eaton’s ninth-inning grounder back to the mound, allowing Madrigal to score from second, the White Sox had forged a tie. That deadlock lasted until Jared Walsh launched a three-run game-ending homer to left-center off Matt Foster, marking his second long ball of the night.
This weekend saw a White Sox defense expected to be solid, at the very least, commit five errors leading to seven unearned runs. One of the game’s top bullpens failed to hold eighth-inning leads on Thursday and Saturday, and as the RISP number would indicate, their powerful offense did not come through enough in the clutch.
There should be better days ahead for the White Sox, and no need to extrapolate trends out of one weekend. Ultimately, the White Sox liked the fight in their process if not necessarily the final results.
“Obviously, it's not how we wanted the first four to go. But at the end of the day, we fought. We had to fight through losing T.A. today. We're going to keep fighting,” Cease said. “We're not holding our heads down, by any means. There's a long season to go.
“I don't think there's really any panic going on right now. At the end of the day, we need to play a little bit better. But we've got a lot of talent out there. We believe in ourselves. We've got to keep fighting."
Anderson exited with left hamstring tightness and is listed as day to day. He could join left fielder Eloy Jiménez and outfielder Adam Engel as key contributors sidelined by injuries. But much like the 1-3 start, it won’t shut down this team.
“Never give up,” García said. “We were able to tie the game in the ninth and battled to the end. Unfortunately we didn’t get the win, but today’s game shows a lot of who we are. We are playing as a team, united. That’s who we are and who we are going to be throughout this whole season.”