White Sox walked-off by Rays for second straight night

The Sox actually have played some good baseball at Tropicana Field against the stiffest competition going. Any chance anyone out there wants to hear that right now?

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Randy Arozarena (center) is embraced by his Rays teammates after hitting the game-winning single to beat the White Sox in the 10th inning Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Scott Audette/AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Look, it’s not all bad.

Sure, the White Sox are 7-14 — their most games under .500 since the end of the 2019 season — after losing in walk-off fashion to the preposterously hot Rays for the second day in a row, this time by a score of 4-3.

Yes, they’ve dropped five of their last six and eight of their last 10 and ought to be giving thanks to the baseball gods for being in the American League Central, where any team with a pulse can stay within striking distance for a long time.

No, the 2023 Sox still haven’t won a single series. Losing at least two of three to the Rays will leave them at 0-6-1 in series, a truly pitiful mark.

But — we might have to duck after saying this, given how frustrated fans are — the Sox actually have played some good baseball here against the stiffest imaginable competition.

Any chance anyone out there wants to hear that right now?

After losing 8-7 in the series opener despite taking a lead into the ninth inning, the Sox expected ace Dylan Cease to give them a chance in a matchup against terrific Rays lefty Shane McLanahan. But Cease fell behind 2-0 on a Randy Arozarena home run in a 35-pitch first inning and failed to record an out in the fifth, his shortest start since May 2022.

Still, a bunch of the rest of the Sox showed up. Eloy Jimenez hit a 434-foot solo shot off McLanahan, his second homer in as many days. Yasmani Grandal took McLanahan over the center-field wall to tie it 2-2 in the fifth, and Gavin Sheets went upstairs to yank two-strike high heat from reliever Jason Adam into the seats in right in the eighth for his first career pinch-hit homer, tying it 3-3.

Meanwhile, Sox relievers Kenyan Middleton, Gregory Santos, Kendall Graveman and Lopez picked up Cease with five scoreless innings before Jimmy Lambert gave up a 10th-inning single to Arozarena, bringing speedy ghost runner Vidal Brujan home from second. It was a second consecutive game of mostly excellent work from the bullpen.

“We are playing hard,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “We are competing. We had a chance to win both games. We’ve got a good team. I’m not going to question anything here. We’ve got a good team. We prepare. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. That’s it.”

Timing isn’t on their side, not with the Rays doing their best impression of the 1927 Yankees. They are 18-3 and, by the numbers, perhaps even more dominant than their record indicates. The Rays have scored more runs than any other team in baseball, have allowed the fewest and have the best run differential through 21 games — plus-85 — in the modern era of baseball. They also have homered in all 21 games to open the season — another modern-era record — and are 12-0 at home, the longest home streak in club history and the longest out of the gate in the majors since the 2009 Dodgers started 13-0.

Cease was “proud” of how the Sox played through the first two games of the series, but the Rays are on another level.

“They’re playing extremely well,” Cease said. “They’re good at not beating themselves. We’ve hung in there, and they’re definitely beatable. We’ve just got to do it.”

One thing they couldn’t do, for the most part, is connect with McLanahan’s pitches. Last year’s All-Star starter induced 32 whiffs on 49 swings from the Sox, including 14 of 16 on changeups and all six passes on curveballs. At times, it was hard to watch — especially when it was Luis Robert Jr.’s turn at the plate. For the game, Robert missed on 10 of 11 swings and struck out all four times, his slump extending to 3-for-37 since April 11.

The Sox will have Lucas Giolito opposing right-hander Zach Eflin — fresh off the injured list — in Sunday’s finale. Eflin signed a three-year, $40 million deal in the offseason, the largest haul ever for a Rays free agent.

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