White Sox do some good things but lose second straight to Astros

Moncada and Zavala homered, but the Astros’ soft contact did in Giolito and Santos in the 6-4 loss.

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White Sox reliever Joe Kelly exits Saturday’s loss to the Astros. (AP)

Astros fans jeer and wave to White Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly (17) as he heads to the dugout after being pulled in the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP)

AP Photos

HOUSTON — The Astros can mash with the best of them, but they dinked and dunked the White Sox to a 6-4 defeat Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

The Sox feel as if they’re playing good baseball against the defending World Series champions, but they’re 1-2 in their season-opening series and will wake up Sunday needing a win in the closeout game for a split.

This is what championship teams do. They have so-so days and win. The Sox, who aspire to be a championship team, did some good things and lost.

Against Lucas Giolito in the first inning, soft singles clocked at 70.2 mph off the bat (Jeremy Pena), 82.1 (Yordan Alvarez), 89.5 (Kyle Tucker) and 62.6 (Chas McCormick) produced a pair of runs. Somewhere in baseball heaven, Wee Willie (hit ’em where they ain’t) Keeler nodded approvingly.

In a two-run eighth that built the Astros’ lead to 6-3, former Sox Jose Abreu and Alvarez grounded RBI singles through the infield against Gregory Santos, making his Sox debut. In between, the Astros cashed a two-base error on Yoan Moncada into a tying run after catcher Seby Zavala’s two-run homer against Astros starter Jose Urquidy had given the Sox a 3-2 lead.

This is to take nothing from the Astros, who grind out at-bats as well as anyone.

“They were one of the better teams in baseball with making contact last year,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said.

They won the World Series doing it last year and won a game doing it Saturday, scoring all their runs with two outs. Two of them came in a 24-pitch inning for Giolito.

“I thought I made good pitches in the first inning,” Giolito said.

“They’ve got a good approach, getting the bat to the ball, found a bunch of holes on me.”

“They’re tough outs, they put the ball in play,” Grifol said. “And they added Abreu. It’s a team that grinds.”

Giolito finished better than he started, allowing one hit to the last 13 batters he faced but needed 97 pitches to get through five innings. After Jimmy Lambert and Joe Kelly combined on a scoreless sixth, Kelly gave up two-out singles to Alvarez and Abreu, and Grifol, not wanting to push Kelly beyond 17 pitches in his first game, brought in Jose Ruiz.

After Astros fans booed Kelly off the field — as a Dodger in 2020, Kelly mixed it up with the Astros, throwing at Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman and instigating a bench-clearing dustup — Ruiz gave up an RBI single to Tucker.

The Sox brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth when Eloy Jimenez blooped an RBI single to right, but Moncada struck out against Hector Neris to end it. Moncada, who struck out three times and flied out, poked an opposite-field homer into the Crawford Boxes in left but didn’t seem as locked in after fouling a pitch off his right shin in the third. His first strikeout halted a streak of four consecutive hits.

Tim Anderson had two hits and a stolen base, enjoying his third consecutive multihit game. Rookie Oscar Colas had two singles. Luis Robert made two nice catches, one of them at the top of the fence.

“I like how we’re playing right now,” Giolito said. “Going up against a good opponent, everybody is in the game, we’re playing hard. I like seeing guys hustle big-time on defense, we’re running balls out. If we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”

The Sox have outhit the Astros 33-21 in the series, but they are 1-2 to open the season.

“They are able to find the holes, they got hits when they needed to and we didn’t,” -Zavala said. “That’s kind of why we lost.”

“It just comes down to, the ball bounced in their direction today, really,” Grifol said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

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