HOUSTON — A combined 4,703 major-league wins had been pocketed by 76-year-old Tony La Russa and 72-year-old Dusty Baker when two of the best teams in the American League, run by baseball’s oldest managers, opened a four-game series at Minute Maid Park.
In head-to-head tilts between them, Baker easily closed the gap to 102-100 with his Astros’ 10-2 rout of the White Sox. It was just the second time all season the Sox allowed double-digit runs.
Sparks did not fly. But they have in the past between La Russa — who surpassed John McGraw this season to become the second-winningest manager of all time with 2,771 victories — and Baker (1,932), who ranks 12th. Most notably in 2003, when La Russa was with the Cardinals and Baker with the Cubs. Both managers acknowledged the testy history.
“Dusty and I had a long relationship,” La Russa said. “The only time there were sparks was when we were in the same division when he was in Cincinnati and Chicago. Glad he’s in the [AL] western division. Like anybody else who you respect, I’ll be glad when the series is over.”
“It’s professional,” Baker said of their relationship today. “I got a lot of respect for Tony and what he’s done and accomplished in the game. We’ve had a couple run-ins.”
La Russa’s Cardinals brawled with Baker’s Giants in 2002, and La Russa and Baker, managing the Cubs in 2003, shouted profanities at each other during a five-game series in September featuring a beanball tiff between pitchers Matt Clement of the Cubs and Dan Haren of the Cardinals.
With Sox right-hander Dylan Cease (5-3) getting zinged for seven runs in 3⅓ innings, this one appeared lost almost from the get-go. Michael Brantley’s three-run homer followed Jose Altuve’s leadoff single and an error by third baseman Yoan Moncada.
Cease retired the next nine batters but was charged with four runs in the fourth. Carlos Correa bounced an RBI double over the right-center-field wall, and Abraham Toro, subbing for injured third baseman Alex Bregman, singled in two runs. Zack Burdi gave up a sacrifice fly.
“I wasn’t getting count leverage, and the off-speed wasn’t there like it usually is,” Cease said. “My stuff felt decent, but I wasn’t able to utilize it.”
Cease allowed four hits and two walks, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. His ERA climbed from 3.38 to 3.99.
“We’re not going to be perfect,” Cease said. “We’re going to have bad ones. I’m going to feel bad for tonight and then tomorrow I’m going to get back after it.”
The Sox were 8-2 in Cease’s previous 10 starts, but the Astros were 6-1 in Jose Urquidy’s last seven. Urquidy pitched five scoreless innings before Adam Engel and Jose Abreu had RBI singles in the sixth. Jose Altuve and Toro homered against Matt Foster.
The series marks the second in a row for the Sox (43-26) against the best in the AL. They took two of three from the Rays at home this week. The Astros (40-28) lead the league in runs, hits, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
“Their lineup is hands down the best lineup in the American League, so we’re going to have our hands full,” said Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel, a former Astro, who will pitch in the series finale Sunday.