ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Less than two weeks ago, at the All-Star Game in Cleveland, White Sox catcher James McCann ripped a base hit off the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff in his lone at-bat. He caught four innings that night and received the final pitch from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman as the American League beat the National League 4-3.
It was heady stuff for McCann, representing the Sox in his Midsummer Classic debut.
“A dream come true,” he called it. “All of it.”
At Tropicana Field before the Sox beat the Rays 9-2 to end a seven-game skid, though, McCann looked and sounded a lot more like a guy who has been living a nightmare.
An 0-7 nightmare for the Sox while being outscored 50-17 since the All-Star break before their victory Friday.
And a 2-for-19 nightmare for himself at the plate — before an 0-for-4 Friday as the Sox’ designated hitter made it 2-for-23, his average dipping below .300 for the first time in exactly two months.
With a harsh suddenness, McCann’s All-Star experience has been shoved into a dark corner of the seemingly distant past.
“It’s hard to believe it was so [recent],” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it right now. The whole thing has just been very frustrating.”
Define “the whole thing,” please?
“We haven’t pitched well, we haven’t hit well and we haven’t fielded well,” he said. “We just haven’t played well.
“Frustrating, like I said. We were playing good baseball heading into the All-Star break, hovering right around .500, and all of a sudden a week’s worth of games, and you’re nine games under .500. It’s not the way you draw it up. But it’s times like this that build character. It’s times like this where the culture of the clubhouse needs to come out. We need to put the blinders on and keep fighting.”
There was plenty of fight in the opener of a three-game series against the wild-card-contending Rays. Leury Garcia had three doubles and beat out a fourth hit, an infield single, with a headfirst dive into first base. Adam Engel, playing his first big-league game in 11 weeks, beat out a three-hopper to short and legged out a triple. The Sox had nine extra-base hits and got a rock-solid start from winning pitcher Reynaldo Lopez (5-8).
After an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Royals in Kansas City, first baseman Jose Abreu noted how much the team “needs” and “misses” shortstop Tim Anderson and rookie left fielder Eloy Jimenez. Abreu also alluded to the need for reinforcements from the minor leagues — Luis Robert, anyone? — saying the team must do the best with what it has “until the organization gives us a chance to bring the people up that can help us here.”
That sort of talk isn’t McCann’s style, at least not right now.
“As far as I’m concerned, show up every day to win regardless of who’s in the locker room next to you,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win, whether that’s on the field with my own play or talking to the other guys around me. In regard to the guys who aren’t here, who are part of the future? That’s exactly what they are — part of the future.”
Minor-league prospects aren’t going to pull the Sox out of a slide early in the second half. For that matter, McCann’s All-Star past isn’t all that relevant, either.
“Regardless of how the first half went for any player, the toughest stretch is always what’s ahead,” he said. “That’s why we need a sense of urgency now. There has to be — or else you let a stretch like this snowball out of control, and the next thing you know, you’re too far gone.”