La Russa’s call to bunt backfires in Sox’ loss to Tigers

Despite the outcome, La Russa didn’t regret the decision to have Danny Mendick sacrifice against struggling Tigers pitcher Derek Holland.

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Jeimer Candelario forces out Jake Lamb in the sixth inning Saturday.

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The White Sox finally had their chance. Facing struggling Tigers reliever Derek Holland in the sixth inning, they already had scored twice on a double by Jake Lamb and had runners on first and second with nobody out.

But instead of letting Danny Mendick swing away, manager Tony La Russa called for a bunt. With Detroit expecting it, Mendick’s attempt went to first baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose throw to third forced Lamb.

After Kyle Funkhouser replaced Holland, grounders from Tim Anderson and Nick Madrigal ended the inning and killed the Sox’ last true threat in their 4-3 loss Saturday to the Tigers.

Even if the bunt had worked, it still would’ve surrendered a free out to Holland, who had allowed a single, two doubles and a walk and started the day with a 9.00 ERA in 12 games. The strategy short-circuited the Sox’ best chance for a big inning.

La Russa, however, didn’t regret the decision.

“What was the score at the time, 4-3?” La Russa said. “Is the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at first? And if he bunts them over, you’ve got Anderson and Madrigal? I think that’s the play.”

Mendick’s bunt, which came after Zack Collins walked during an at-bat in which La Russa had him trying to sacrifice, wasn’t the only situation that will be questioned.

On a play in which Yasmani Grandal struck out looking, Yoan Moncada didn’t slide and was thrown out trying to steal second to end the seventh. Again, La Russa defended his move.

“It’s 3-2, and we started the runner,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘[Grandal]fouled a couple of balls off, and then he took a pitch that he thought was a ball, and the guy threw [Moncada] out. The bunt is not an aggressive play, and it didn’t work. That was an aggressive play, and it didn’t work. So make of it whatever you want to. That’s one good thing about watching the game, you know what my strategy was.”

La Russa’s moves have been a constant talking point; this game will add more fuel to that debate.

And La Russa will have to wait another day to pass John McGraw for second on the all-time managerial wins list.

The Sox didn’t have much success against Tigers starter Tarik Skubal. In five innings, Skubal struck out 11, making their opportunities to score even more precious.

“He landed curveballs when he needed to,” said Madrigal, who drove in the Sox’ first run with a single in the first inning. “You could see how much talent he has, and the stuff. Just kept us off balance when he needed to.”

Skubal was helped by a Tigers offense that hit three home runs off Sox starter Lucas Giolito — Eric Haase had two, and Miguel Cabrera also went deep. Giolito struck out nine in seven innings, but he and the Sox couldn’t overcome the homers.

“The ball flies a bit in warm weather, and we have the crazy wind here, but . . . I need to make better pitches in those situations,” Giolito said. “[Those were] three not-well-executed pitches that led to three home runs in the loss.”

But Giolito’s outing, the Sox’ futility against Skubal or even the flashy City Connect uniforms weren’t the main talking point.

“I felt good about sending [Moncada],” La Russa said. “[Grandal] had been tough all day long. I haven’t seen the pitch, so I don’t know. And I felt really good about bunting them over [in the sixth].”

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