It’s too late for this information to help the White Sox in 2020, but it could help them going forward:
Throwing strikes is a very good thing.
Walking opposing hitters, not so good.
Intentionally walking a .232 hitter to load the bases, then bringing in a nervous rookie pitcher — no, a thousand times no.
The Sox are out of the playoffs because their bullpen wouldn’t have been able to find the strike zone Thursday if a strike zone-sniffing dog had been at its side. Pitcher after pitcher walked Oakland batters, giving the Athletics a 6-4 victory in Game 3 and a wild-card series win. And I do mean give.
Nine Sox pitchers walked a combined nine batters. Rock bottom came in a 27-minute fourth inning, when five A’s reached base via walk. The most controversial one came when Sox manager Rick Renteria decided to intentionally walk Chad Pinder, loading the bases with two outs and the Sox leading 3-2. Renteria then pulled a laboring Carlos Rodon for rookie pitcher Matt Foster, who had never thrown a postseason pitch in his life.
It showed. Immediately. He walked two straight batters. The Sox, who had been feeling so good about themselves, now trailed 4-3. The intentional walk might — might — have made sense with a veteran pitcher waiting in the wings. But a nervous rookie? No, not even close. It wasn’t a good decision in the moment, it wasn’t a good decision after the fact and it won’t be a good decision if it’s buried in a time capsule and dug up a century from now.
Renteria said he was trying to “get the best matchup to suit the guy that you have coming in [Foster].’’ It backfired in a big way.
“I think we handled the bullpen as well as we possibly could have handled it,’’ he said.
It was one mistake on a day of mistakes, though that won’t appease the group that wants to see Renteria exiled to an unpopulated island far, far away. The truth is that Sox pitchers did the vast majority of the damage to the team’s dream of advancing to an American League Division Series against the Astros. Their relievers were a relief only to Oakland hitters.
The Sox knew they were going to rely on their bullpen heavily Thursday. Their plan was to start Lucas Giolito in Game 1, Dallas Keuchel in Game 2 and Who Knows in Game 3. The mystery guest became Dane Dunning, who, facing runners on first and third, was pulled after 15 pitches in the first inning. Talk about exit velocity!
His replacement, fire thrower Garrett Crochet, came out of the game after nine pitches because of tightness in his left forearm. To be fair to Renteria, he couldn’t have seen this kind of start coming. He had hoped to use Crochet for several innings. What followed after the rookie’s departure was a slow-moving disaster flick. The pitchers and the walks starting coming in droves. Whatever good feeling Renteria might have had about his bullpen going into the game didn’t know what it was talking about.
What these Sox are, what they are known for, could best be summed up by Luis Robert’s 487-foot home run to open the second inning. He threw the bat aside as if it were a nuisance and ran the bases. Loud and brash and 1-0 Sox. But even their powerful offense let them down. That same inning, MVP candidate Jose Abreu had a chance to do more damage with the bases loaded but grounded out to third to put a blanket over a prime scoring opportunity.
For a team built on power, the way this game dripped away was brutal. If you go out, you want to go out on your shield. You don’t want to go out because of a series of infected paper cuts. But that’s what happened with all those walks.
It was a tough way for the young Sox to exit the stage, but they preferred to look forward.
“It’s the start of something,’’ said shortstop Tim Anderson, who had nine hits in the three-game series.
“These guys are going to be wanting to get back here again,’’ Renteria said.
Two things can be said with certainty after a sudden end to a fun season:
The Sox are going to be very good at least for the next few seasons.
They set relief pitching back by about 50 years in Game 3.