DETROIT — Get ’em on, get ’em in, get it over with?
Nope. If only things were that simple for the While Sox after a lifeless 4-3 loss to the Tigers on Monday in the opener of a three-game series at Comerica Park.
The hard truth is, they’re not even close.
The Sox are near enough to a playoff spot to reach for the clock, tap the button and start the countdown to October. The Royals’ doubleheader sweep in Cleveland knocked two games off the Sox’ magic number, leaving it at two.
This thing might end Tuesday if the Sox and Tigers can squeeze in a game that was moved up 5½ hours — to 12:10 p.m. — under the threat of buckets of rain. The Royals and Indians go in the evening.
But even if the Sox have reason to celebrate, there will be a dark cloud overhead. The Carlos Rodon cloud. Not that it’s breaking news, but Rodon’s moneymaker — an All-Star left arm — continues to be malfunctioning.
That’s not something Rodon wanted to get into publicly after he came out of a 3-3 game only three innings and 69 pitches into his night.
“Yeah, it’s just normal soreness,” he said. “Nothing crazy.”
Rodon stated his preference to keep the conversation on the game — not the bigger picture of his health and availability going forward — but, after being asked again if he was concerned about the future of his season, ended a video conference with reporters abruptly.
“I think we’re good,” he said. “Thank you, guys.”
It was a far cry from the directness with which manager Tony La Russa expressed his concerns about one of his key starter’s availability the rest of the way.
“The first two innings, we were all encouraged; he threw the ball well,” La Russa said. “In the third, he lost command. He was struggling. . . . He came back in and said he wasn’t right, [had] soreness. So we’re concerned.”
Rodon — staked to a 3-0 lead — hopped off the mound, appearing frustrated, after walking Daz Cameron on a two-out, 3-2 fastball up and out of the zone in the second. His next few pitches to Dustin Garneau were balls up high, bringing catcher Yasmani Grandal to the mound for a visit. Rodon came back to strike out Garneau, but the struggle had begun.
After the first three hitters reached in the third, Rodon’s inning got much more challenging when second baseman Cesar Hernandez failed to get an out despite fielding a grounder while positioned directly between baserunner Victor Reyes and the bag. In a rush to throw to first to complete a possible double play, Hernandez tagged Reyes with an empty glove, then threw late to first.
“He’s played an outstanding second base,” La Russa said. “I’m not going to crucify him for one mental lapse.”
Rodon’s chances to play a big role from here are much more of an issue. Ten days after his last start, he didn’t have the juice to go beyond 69 pitches. In four starts — the last two with lots of extra rest — since coming off the injured list, Rodon has yet to go beyond five innings or 86 pitches. This was a significant step backward.
“He was only going to pitch one more time [before the playoffs], next week,” La Russa said.
“If you’re asking for a seat-of-the-pants opinion,” La Russa said, “I don’t see how he’ll pitch next week. . . .
“You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It’s a tired cliché, but it’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Rodon entered the game with career highs in wins and strikeouts and the best ERA, WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings of any American League pitcher with a minimum of 120 innings. When healthy this season, he has been lights-out.
But are the postseason lights still on for Rodon? Alas, that’s the question now.