It had the feeling of a playoff game, and it’s what the White Sox came here for.
A 2-1 loss to the Cubs? That was not on their Sunday wish list, but all said and done, for a team looking to carve a niche among baseball’s teams to fear and not push over, taking two of three games at Wrigley Field will do.
After hammering the Cubs with 11 home runs over the first two games, the Sox engaged in a tight pitchers’ duel against Yu Darvish with Dylan Cease, the traded-away Cubs prospect, pitching like the
No. 3 starter the Sox will need if they make the playoffs.
Darvish was unscathed but for Jose Abreu’s fourth homer in a row — a solo shot in the second inning that appeared to leave Darvish with a look of amazement as Abreu trotted around the bases — and Cease was, too, except for Kyle Schwarber’s two-run homer in the sixth.
Cease felt the playoff vibe — in no way existent during his rookie season in 2019 — while watching the first two games of the series and pitching in the finale.
“Definitely,” said Cease (4-2), who lowered his ERA to 3.13 with his fifth straight good start after a dud in his first by allowing four hits and three walks and striking out five. “Watching the eighth and the ninth [innings], when we had guys on, too, you could feel that intensity. We’re treating every game like it’s must-win, so it definitely has that feel.”
The Cubs, their offensive struggles notwithstanding, have been there, so these three games against a perennial contender, recent World Series champ and crosstown competitor were a litmus test of sorts for the mashing, bashing Sox in the fourth year of their rebuild.
“The team has been building, and there’s been a lot of hype,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after the Sox beat the Cubs on Saturday for their seventh win in a row. “It’s tough to be on the losing side of it. But when you see teams come together like that, it’s pretty scary.”
Cease escaped trouble twice. The Cubs had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth but did not score after Rizzo got thrown out at home by third baseman Yoan Moncada (a review went the Sox’ way) and catcher James McCann threw out Willson Contreras at second for the third out. The Cubs filled the bases with no outs in the fifth on two walks and a Moncada error, but Cease struck out Jason Kipnis, and shortstop Tim Anderson turned an Ian Happ grounder behind the bag into a nifty double play.
Manager Rick Renteria liked what he saw of Cease, who kept his composure through it all. Knowing Cease’s numbers are increasingly better each time through the lineup, Renteria did not get his bullpen going until after the homer.
“He was crisp; he was sharp; he was still explosive,” Renteria said. “There was no need for me to even consider going and getting him.”
The Sox put two runners on in the eighth against Craig Kimbrel and did not score and loaded the bases after two outs against Jeremy Jeffress, but Moncada grounded out to end the game.
“I felt like we were in it, in every pitch,” Cease said. “We’re a team that needs to be taken seriously, and I think they’re a great team, too. It’s one of those series where we had two big teams clash with each other, and it was a lot of fun to watch.”
The teams will meet again on the last weekend of the season at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Sox are 17-12 at the near-halfway point of the season.
“The offense has taken off,” said Renteria, whose team leads the majors in slugging percentage. “If we get pitching like we did today and swing the bat like we have, I’ll take it every single day.”