CHICAGO -- With two games left in the regular season entering play Saturday, a White Sox loss or an Astros win would secure home-field advantage for Houston in the teams’ upcoming American League Division Series matchup.
Yoán Moncada made sure the Astros would have to earn it themselves.
With a runner on first in the bottom of the eighth inning, Moncada took Tigers reliever Kyle Funkhouser deep to left field to give Chicago an eventual 5-4 win over the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field. The homer capped a furious rally by the White Sox, who went from down, 4-0, to ahead for good after a three-run seventh and a two-run eighth.
"This was an exciting game, and an exciting comeback and, of course, an exciting victory," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I would put this one right at the top with all the wins we've gotten this year."
Moncada's game-winning homer wasn't enough to keep the Sox in Chicago to kick off the ALDS, though, putting a bit of a damper on the celebration.
Astros losses on Saturday and Sunday and a White Sox sweep of Detroit were what the South Siders needed to secure home-field advantage, but those hopes were dashed when Houston beat Oakland, 10-4, about 20 minutes after Liam Hendriks locked down his 38th save. Now, the Sox will travel to Minute Maid Park to start the best-of-five series against the Astros, with Game 1 on Thursday and Game 2 on Friday.
"Obviously, we would've liked to have started at home, and they like playing in their place, but you get ready to play,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “If we were here, we'd have had to do the same thing we'll have to do there: play as hard as we can and as good as we can. So it really doesn't change anything."
Chicago’s matchup with Detroit had more playoff implications than determining at which park the White Sox and Astros would match up.
Lucas Giolito started on the bump and finished off his 2021 regular season by allowing just one run on two hits in five innings, setting a career high in innings pitched (178 2/3) and reaching 200 strikeouts in a season for the second time in his career. One of the goals for his start was to make sure he came out of the game healthy, and he’s now set himself up nicely to start one of the first two games of the ALDS.
Meanwhile, Dallas Keuchel’s first audition for a playoff ‘pen spot didn’t go as well as he hoped. Keuchel entered to start the seventh and gave the Tigers some cushion by allowing three runs on four hits.
He didn't make it out of the frame.
After two quick outs, it appeared that Keuchel would get through his first inning and maybe come out for a second when Detroit had a runner on first with two outs, but an RBI single, an RBI double, a walk and another RBI single followed to lead to La Russa bringing Matt Foster out of the bullpen. Now, time will tell whether La Russa keeps the left-handed Keuchel in his relief plans for the playoffs.
“Obviously I'd like for that seventh inning to go a little bit different. Two outs and a chance to close it out, and it didn't happen,” Keuchel said. “I signed over here for a reason, and that's to help this team reach the ultimate goal, and that's the World Series and to bring a title home to Chicago. So, any way I can help. That's been no different throughout my career.”
The White Sox will now finish off the series with the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, then get a few days before hitting the road for Houston. However, the club knows that once the two games at Minute Maid Park are done, a raucous crowd will be waiting in Chicago.
“The fans, they’ve been with us all year. I know that White Sox fans have been waiting a long time for this, and the energy they provide is fantastic,” Giolito said. “If tonight is just a little taste of what it will be like at Guaranteed Rate during the playoffs, it’s looking pretty good.”