You can debate whether or not the White Sox are in the wild card chase. Their 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings Wednesday left them with a 51-55 record, so good luck building a case that they are.
If building blocks for 2016 and beyond are what really matter in the last 56 games of 2015, then the small but perhaps important step taken by right fielder Avisail Garcia was the most important “W” of the day.
Garcia, struggling mightily during July to hit with any power, homered for the second time in less than 24 hours, a three-run shot in the Sox’ five-run first. Then he showed some selectivity and walked with the bases loaded in the 10th.
It was everything manager Robin Ventura and hitting coach Todd Steverson wanted to see, all in one afternoon.
“Absolutely,’’ Ventura said. “You want him to be offensive enough to be a threat when he goes up there. The started it yesterday. The homer being aggressive. Right there at the end of the game, he has to be patient. You know that guy [Brad Boxberger]has a great split and throws 94 so it’s hard to lay off that.’’
The Sox had built a 5-0 lead in the first inning against Erasmo Ramirez but were stymied until the 10th as the Rays chipped away at Carlos Rodon (four runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings) and Zach Duke.
After Adam Eaton led off the 10th with a single, stole second and advance to third when catcher Curt Casali’s throw hit shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the head, Boxberger retired Tyler Saladino on a fly to left that wasn’t deep enough to score Eaton. Intentional walks to Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera set the state for Garcia, who took a 3-1 pitch for the game-winner.
“For him to be able to do that and look comfortable doing it, not looking like he had a trigger finger going … ’’ Ventura said. “He needs to do that. That’s part of the rumor going around about him, he’s going to swing at everything. He’s got to be able to shorten up and be able to get it in the zone and do something with it.’’
The word on the big and strong Garcia, still a pup at 24, is that his swing is too long and his power is limited to the opposite way. His homers Tuesday and Wednesday were both pulled, albeit on breaking pitches.
“I’m working really hard with Steverson and the manager a little, too,’’ Garcia said. “Just trying to be focused and trying to swing at good pitches and trying to learn how they are going to throw to me.
“When I start my at-bat, all my weight is in the back and then when the pitch is coming all my weight is in the front. I’ve got to be in the middle. Not too much back, not too much front, just in the middle to be successful, to use my hands more.’’
As for whether the Sox are still in the wild card hunt, Ventura made it clear where he stands using closer David Robertson (5-3) for two perfect innings and by pulling Rodon, who wasn’t filling the strike zone with a comfy lead.
Development for Rodon, a rookie, and Garcia are key, “but we are here to win games, too,’’ Ventura said.
Handed a 5-0 lead, S Rodon was unable to finish the fifth inning as the Rays scored two in the third on Logan Forsythe’s RBI double and Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI single. Rodon’s pitch count was climbing, however, and after Longoria hit a home run to deep center and walked Forsythe with two outs in the fourth, Ventura pulled the rookie in favor of right-hander Matt Albers. Albers gave up an RBI double to Cabrera, the run charged to Rodon.
Ramirez regrouped after the first, throwing five scoreless innings of one-hit ball, and the Rays tied it in the eighth against Duke on Brandon Guyer’s double to left-center that scored catcher Casali (two-out single) from first. Eaton’s throw was over cutoff man Alexei Ramirez’s head, and the trailer on the relay, Carlos Sanchez, hesitated before throwing home too late.
The Sox (51-55) are off Thursday before going to Kansas City for a three-game weekend series against the Royals.