HOUSTON — The White Sox’ season is one loss away from being done.
The unshakable Astros, overcoming a 4-2 deficit with two runs in the fifth inning against starter Lucas Giolito and five decisive runs in the seventh against a shaky bullpen that was built to be a team strength, put the Sox down two games to none with a 9-4 victory Friday in their best-of-five American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park.
“Our back is to the wall right now,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
Yordan Alvarez’s RBI single against left-hander Aaron Bummer broke a 4-4 tie, and Carlos Correa’s two-run double and a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker against Craig Kimbrel were the Astros’ big blows in the seventh.
As bleak as things look for the Sox, the reactions from manager Tony La Russa, Giolito and Anderson were as upbeat as could be, but it was a tough sell to those who watched the Astros beat the Sox by five runs in each of the first two games.
La Russa pointed to 11 Sox hits (all singles) and noted how many of the Astros’ 10 hits were ground balls through the infield.
“I give our club a lot of credit,” La Russa said. “We were right there. We played as hard as we could and good as we could.”
It didn’t look too good when Leury Garcia, who moved to right field from second base after second baseman Cesar Hernandez pinch-hit for defensively superior right fielder Adam Engel, spun around beneath Correa’s liner that bounced to the wall for extra bases. The Astros, by contrast, played pristine, at times sensational, defense, getting big plays from Correa at shortstop, Jose Altuve at second base, Yuli Gurriel at first base and Tucker in right field.
“They’re really good,” La Russa said. “I thought we played really well, but they played better.”
The series shifts to Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday night for Game 3. Game 4 is Monday in Chicago, if necessary.
“We know things will get better,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘It’s good to head back home, for sure.’’
“They beat us two out of three in Chicago [in July], so we have work to do,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
The Sox will attempt to become the 11th team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five postseason series.
“We have to win three games in a row,” Giolito said. “It wouldn’t be the first time that happened.”
With Giolito pitching against Astros left-hander Framber Valdez, this matchup gave the Sox a great chance to gain a split, and then Giolito, the Sox’ best starter in the second half, struck out the side in the first inning.
But he walked five and lasted 4⅓ innings.
Leading 4-2, Giolito walked two of the three batters he faced in the fifth and was pulled in favor of left-hander Garrett Crochet, who walked Alvarez to load the bases before giving up a tying two-run single to Gurriel.
“Maybe just trying to do too much,” Giolito said. “I had an idea it was probably my last inning, and we had just put up runs. I wanted to get the shutdown.”
The Sox had taken the two-run lead in the top of the fifth, knocking out Valdez with singles by Garcia, Anderson (three hits) and Luis Robert (three hits). Jose Abreu singled against reliever Yimi Garcia, and Robert scored on Yasmani Grandal’s sacrifice fly.
The rest was all Astros.
The rest of the series? And the season?
It might not be for long. The Sox say don’t count on it.
“I’d rather be in their position, but I know our club,” La Russa said.
“Take the attitude, the effort level, the talent we’ve got and Sunday find a way to win. Then you’re down one and win another one. So it could be done.”