Scoring in the first inning is exhilarating. Classical lineup construction is all about the first inning. It's the manager's chance to set the scenario. It seems like it should work more often than it does, but when it does work, you feel like your team is cool.
Scoring against an ace is exhilarating. The expectations are low, so when those runners cross the plate, you think like your team has earned it. Like your team is competitive; dangerous. You feel like your team is cool.
Scoring two runs against Chris Sale in the first inning? Oh my.
Sale started off the game with a little hiccup. It seemed like he hadn't quite found the command of his fastball yet, and Brandon Guyer, who's become the consummate leadoff man, accepted his walk on five pitches. Sale figured himself out, almost immediately, though, as great pitchers usually do.
Tim Beckham, who for some odd reason was batting second, took an at bat like a man who hasn't had a ton of exposure to Chris Sale and his extreme release point and sweeping action. He backed out of the way of what he thought was an inside fastball, although it was actually well over the plate. The next pitch he sent for a high infield popup. Then Sale dominated Evan Longoria on three pitches, setting him up with offspeed inside, and then putting him away swinging with a changeup outside off the plate.
That brought up cleanup-hitting Logan Forsythe, who had one of the at bats that's defined his breakout season. He accurately defined his strike zone and showed good discipline to stick to it, taking a fastball just a bit high, and not biting on a backfoot slider. When he got a pitch in the zone, he showed fast hands, staying short and quick to the ball. The 1-1 fastball, that he fouled off was a really nice swing, and two pitches latter, he repeated that with a better result, cracking a 97 mph fastball that came over the heart of the plate and sending it to the left-field seats.
Bring me a sweater.
The White Sox opened up their half of the first inning with a leadoff double from Adam Eaton, gifted to them by a pretty wretched play in the outfield by Brandon Guyer. The ball came off the end of Eaton's bat, and I think Guyer's initial read probably had him beginning to charge, but the ball was surprisingly well-hit for how it looked, and Guyer wasn't able to recover in time.
But Chris Archer picked up his teammate, pitching around the "double" (error) and striking out the next two batters, without giving up a ball to either of them. He put Tyler Saladino away swinging on a slider in the dirt, and sat Jose Abreu down with two fastballs dotted on the outside corner, and a third fastball up and by his bat.
A hard groundout from Melky Cabrera ended the inning.
It's good that the Rays got to Sale when they did, because over the next three innings he gave up only one single, while striking out six Rays, and not even allowing anything other than the single to leave the infield (popups and soft grounders).
Archer was pitching in control of the game, attacking the strike zone and keeping men off base, but the White Sox clawed one run back in the bottom of the third inning when Tyler Saladino went looking for a fastball and got it. He was totally on the 98 mph offering he got over the heart of the plate, clearing the wall in left-center by maybe ten rows. With no easy baserunners given, the damage was minimal, and it was all that the White Sox would get against Chris Archer until the seventh inning, by which time the Rays offense had blown the game open.
In the top of the fifth inning, the Rays got to Sale again. Mikie Mahtook saw a 96 mph fastball over the plate, and continuing his recent hot-swinging ways, he did not miss. Left-center seats, 3-1 Rays. It seemed like an insurance run for what was sure to be a nail-biting finish, but the Rays had more runs in score.
Logan Forsythe lead off the sixth inning with a walk on five pitches. Asdrubal Cabrera fought off a few pitches, and then lead out over the plate and poked an outside changeup the other way for a line drive single. Richie Shaffer, who had made plenty of faces at good good Sale pitches earlier in the game kept his discipline and accepted a five pitch walk to load the bases with no outs.
It appeared that as he approached 100 pitches, Sale was starting to lose his command, and the Sox got their bullpen started while the pitching coach came out for a conference.
Now Sale needed a strikeout, and he got it, fooling Mahtook with a big, sweeping backdoor breaking ball on the bottom outside corner, but the Rays (and the luck dragons) were not going to let him off the hook. Kevin Kiermaier blooped a little popup over the infield and into shallow center field, but with the infield playing in with the bases loaded, there was nobody in the area to even attempt a play. It was a single that should have moved everyone up a base and scored one run, but when Eaton threw the ball back into the infield, it inexplicably got under catcher Tyler Flowers's glove and rolled through his legs. Cabrera alertly scored, and everyone moved up. This was one of the worst catcher errors I may have ever seen.
That ended Sale's night, and he will feel hard done by with those two extra runs, but it's instructive. While it was bad luck to give up the hit, and for two runs to score on it, sometimes things like that happen when you walk two batters to load the inning, and that's a part of the game that does fall on Sale.
Anyway, righty Daniel Webb came into the game, and was unable to shut the door. A hard-hit ground ball from Rene Rivera found a hole, scoring one run. Grady Sizemore pinch hit for Guyer, and hit a line drive that was knocked down at first base, but the Sox were only able to get one out and another run scored. James Loney replaced Beckham, and both he and Evan Longoria singled up the middle to run the score to 8-1.
The Rays continued to pile on with back-to-back home runs against Webb to open the seventh inning, first by Cabrera, over the bullpen in right field, and then by Shaffer -- also to right field, showing power the other way -- for his first major league hit. The pitch was down and away, and the fact that he was still able to create power on the pitch says a lot about his potential if he can harness that in games. The reception he got on his return to the dugoutis worth watching.
Mahtook almost made it three in a row, but came up just short.
Archer gave up one run int he bottom of the seventh, but the game was never again in doubt, and Alex Colome and Kirby Yates closed out the eighth and ninth, with Yates giving up a home run to Avisail Garcia to bring the final score to 11-3.
Some other notes:
- BA got confused and called Archer, "Chris Slider." Not bad, as nicknames go, but Archer is a good enough real name that I doubt it sticks.
- So, about Beckham batting second. There's no need to pile on a guy for getting dominated by Chris Sale, because it's happened to better hitters than Bex, but that's sort of the point. The second spot in the lineup is supposed to be filled by a very good hitter, right? I sort of think this was about Cash wanting to keep people in the spots in the lineup they're used to. He decided to play Beckham and sit Joey Butler for this game, and didn't want to shuffle everyone, so Beckham stepped into the two-spot. It's interesting, and not at all what Maddon would have done.
- Todd Kalas talked to Shaffer's parents in the stands. They seem happy. Apparently he called them during the game at Durham when he learned he was being called up (while they were watchinig on TV), and they first thought he had gotten hurt.
- When Mahtook hit his home run, Joey Butler, watching from the dugout, liked the swing. He pounded the railing in excitement, with about the biggest smile I've ever seen on his face. Nice to see a guy enjoying his day off like that.
- Kevin Kiermaier got an infield single on a ball that wasn't that softly hit to Alexi Ramirez, who made a smooth play and a hard throw. It was pure speed.
- Kiermaier then broke up a double play that would have surely gotten Rivera running.
- Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch. He has now been hit by 14 pitches this year, second most in the majors, behind only Anthony Rizzo. His rate of being hit is the highest in the majors for players with over 200 PA, and second highest if you move the line down to players with over 100 PAs (Derek Dietrich edges him out there, but in only 100 plate appearances). As I said earlier, dude has embraced his role as a leadoff hitter.
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