CLEVELAND — Tony La Russa says his sense of urgency is there every night, as much as it ever was over his Hall of Fame career.
“You treat every game like it’s the last game of your life,” the White Sox’ manager said Wednesday before the Sox defeated the Guardians 2-1 in a game they urgently needed. “That’s why I don’t feel like anything that was accomplished before matters with this job.”
Needing a win to get within two games of .500 and stay within five games of the Twins, who walked off the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon, the Sox beat Cleveland for only the third time in nine games.
Lucas Giolito (6-5) allowed an unearned run in 6⅓ innings, and Reynaldo Lopez, Kendall Graveman (perfect eighth) and Liam Hendriks (perfect ninth, 18th save) were spotless in relief. Jose Abreu and Andrew Vaughn drove in the Sox’ runs.
The Sox head to Minnesota for four games after splitting four against the Guardians thanks to wins in the last two, allowing just one run in those victories.
“Big wins, big wins,” Giolito said. “Considering where we’re at in our division. Splitting the series was big considering how the series started. We have good vibes going into this last series before the break.
“We want to obviously win the series, a sweep would be great. But we have to keep playing with energy we brought the last two nights.”
On the day manager Charlie Montoyo was surprisingly fired by the Blue Jays with a 46-42 record — the Jays, like the Sox, were considered by many as the favorite in their division — La Russa was asked if he evaluates his own performance, even with his Hall of Fame résumé. The Sox are 43-45.
“You always do. Never stops,” La Russa said. “If you’re preaching accountability for the players, you better start with yourself. I think our record should be better, so I should manage better.”
La Russa’s performance has come under scrutiny for in-game decisions and lineup construction, and the lack of offense gives the team a flat appearance in losses. That’s never a good look for the manager.
“Literally want to win as much as I ever have, as much in my life,” La Russa said. “But I still respect and admire what’s in [the clubhouse] and how we keep pushing. And I believe it’s coming.”
La Russa has given his starters long leashes in some games, but he pulled Giolito with a 2-0 lead after Franmil Reyes singled off the wall and Nolan Jones walked with one out in the seventh. Giolito threw 91 pitches and had allowed five hits while striking out five.
“Just not going to push him,” La Russa said. “He gave us all he had.”
The move looked right as Lopez entered and retired Owen Miller on a forceout and would have escaped the jam if not for second baseman Josh Harrison’s error allowing the Guardians to get within 2-1.
It was Giolito’s last start before the All-Star break. The right-hander has had an uneven first half, bringing a 5.05 ERA into the game but a 3.86 mark over his previous three starts. He lowered his ERA to 4.69.
Giolito had a good trend going for him — a 4-1 record with a 0.92 ERA in his last nine starts against Cleveland. The Sox haven’t been able to sustain any positive trends, and they need one going into the All-Star break after the Twins series.
“We’ve had some games where [you thought] ‘What the heck was that about?’ ’’ La Russa said. “But a lot of times we followed up with real gutsy performance that has kept us hanging around.
But there’s no getting around a losing record, La Russa said.
“No, it’s not OK [to] accept it. We had expectations for a reason. We’ve got talent. And when we get hurt, everybody gets hurt. And you have to win with what you got.
“There is nothing wrong with the guts, and chemistry on this team is outstanding.”