HOUSTON — A trip to these parts in the heart of Texas brings back fond White Sox memories of a World Series championship in 2005. It’s also a grim reminder of Sox postseason futility since.
It has been 10-plus years already, and since then the Sox have reached the postseason only once, in 2008, and they bowed out in the first round of that one to boot.
Their 5-0 loss to the Astros Friday night, on a day when the Sox watched a good portion of the Cleveland Indians’ 14th straight win in 19 innings from the visitors clubhouse Friday afternoon, left the Sox 9 ½ games behind the AL Central leaders. That’s a lead, even in early July, that will turn your attention to a less daunting but ominous task nonetheless – of somehow getting to the postseason via the wild card.
Problem for the Sox is, the Astros, Royals, Tigers, Red Sox, Blue Jays are all ahead of them for the two wild card spots.
And a problem for the Sox is, on nights like Friday when they get good starting pitching – Miguel Gonzalez held the Astros to a run over six innings and finished with two earned runs allowed on seven hits – they don’t hit. They were held to three runs or less for the 39th time and shut out for the second time in four games.
Astros right-hander Mike Fiers (5-4, 4.12 ERA) held the Sox scoreless for six innings and the Astros bullpen did the rest to nail down the resurgent home team’s 13th win in 15 games.
“It was a tough one to swallow,’’ Gonzalez said. “But that’s part of the game. [The hitters] battled last time when I gave up eight runs. It’s going to be like that sometimes. We have to stay within ourselves – we have Chris Sale going [Saturday] and Jose Quintana [Sunday] so we have to keep our heads up and keep grinding.’’
Gonzalez retired the first nine batters he faced and encountered his first bit of trouble in the fourth by hitting leadoff batter George Springer with a 2-2 pitch. After Luis Valbuena walked, Jose Altuve, who batted .420 in June, broke his bat on a comebacker which Gonzalez turned into a double play with shortstop Tim Anderson.
With Springer on third, Gonzalez ran a fastball in on cleanup man Carlos Correa’s hands, but Correa’s soft, low pop toward shortstop dropped in the infield grass in front of a charging Tim Anderson for an RBI single.
“Someone has to go all out for that play,’’ third baseman Tyler Saladino said.
That 1-0 lead held up till Carlos Gomez homered to left with Correa on first after first baseman Jose Abreu couldn’t catch Saladino’s throw from across the infield. Saladino was charged with an error on a ball that should have been caught.
Fiers was hit a little harder than Gonzalez was but escaped unscathed. Avisail Garcia almost cleared the wall in left field in the second but settled for a two-out double that moved Brett Lawrie to third, but Saladino popped up to short center.
After Abreu hugged the third-base line with a leadoff double in the fourth, Todd Frazier (to left field), Lawrie (to third) and Garcia (to right) all lined out, leaving Abreu at second. Lawrie doubled with two outs in the sixth but Alex Avila struck out.
“We couldn’t get anything going,’’ said manager Robin Ventura, whose team was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. “That’s what was frustrating. We had opportunities but couldn’t get anything out of them.’’
The Sox have won three straight series, so one loss isn’t deterring them.
“It’s just a matter of things clicking,’’ Saladino said. “You try not to beat yourself up over a loss.’’