Save The White Sox
9:02 AM EDT on August 26, 2022
The Chicago White Sox need for things to go right, and then for those things going right to stack up together, and for that all to happen in a hurry. They're four games back of the Cleveland Guardians in baseball's puke division and five games back of the final wild card, with an ugly run differential and playoff odds that are sinking faster than SPAC values. Thursday night they were one out and then one strike away from escaping Baltimore with an encouraging series win, but were instead undone by miscues and ineptitude, and baffling managerial malpractice.
The score was 3–2 Chicago with two away in the ninth when Baltimore rookie Kyle Stowers came to the plate for his 25th career plate appearance. Not to be rude to Stowers, who I'm sure is a decent enough lad, but this is exactly the guy you'd want facing your big-time closer with the game on the line. Stowers entered the game batting .150 with a .391 OPS, had struck out in nearly half of his turns at the plate, and entering that fateful at-bat he had not made barrel contact even once as a major leaguer. Liam Hendriks, closing the game for the White Sox, had not failed to convert a save opportunity since early May. If you were the gambling sort, you would've put your money on Hendriks making quick work of this wobbly youth and Chicago securing the win and keeping pace with the Guardians. And on the first pitch of the at-bat Hendriks got what he was after, when Stowers made weak contact on an inside fastball and popped harmlessly into foul territory.
Left fielder Adam Engel, brought in an inning earlier as a defensive replacement, tracked the ball in the air and was under it as it fell back to earth. This should've been the end of the game. Instead:
Oof. OK, not the end of the world! As Hendriks pointed out after the game, the result of Engel's dropped ball was a foul ball, strike one. It's fine! Shake it off. Stowers subsequently swung under an 0–1 fastball, putting Hendriks and the White Sox one strike away from victory. Hendriks has some tools at his disposal for these situations: A heavy-use fastball, a slider he can comfortably throw for strikes, and a curve that is almost exclusively used as an out-pitch, and which is very rarely thrown in the strike zone. We are not here to second-guess anyone's pitch selection, only to point out the overall unlikelihood of what happened next: Hendriks threw the curve, for just the 81st time all season, and for just the second time in two seasons that curveball was hit for extra bases. And not just one or two extra bases, but all of the bases:
As much as all this sucks and is painful for White Sox fans, it's just normal baseball shit, happening to come at the worst time for a team in pretty desperate need of some good fortune. You already know that the White Sox would go on to lose this game. The end came in the 11th inning, on an Anthony Santander liner to center that drove in the winning run for the home team. But I would like to draw your attention to an at-bat from the top of the 11th, when flame-throwing O's reliever Felix Bautista faced Luis Robert, the very good but oft-injured young White Sox outfielder, with no outs and the zombie runner still stationed at second base. Robert took three violent rips at three triple-digit fastballs, to no avail. There's no shame in failing to hit 101-mph gas, but you will notice that Robert was not exactly taking the most mechanically sound cuts. In point of fact, he was swinging with one hand:
What will it do to your brain when I tell you that Robert was swinging with one hand, in extra innings in a tie game in the heat of a divisional race, because his left wrist, which was sprained earlier this month, "hurts a lot" and in particular when he swings a bat? What further damage will your brain suffer when I tell you that this was in fact the third consecutive game where Robert has had to take occasional one-handed swings due to pain in that wrist? What will happen to your brain—how much of the surface area of the walls around you will be coated in that brain upon its explosion—when I tell you that White Sox manager Tony La Russa—who just days ago sent a visibly injured Michael Kopech out to start a baseball game, even after Kopech physically struggled to complete his warm-up routine—has been aware of this matter the whole time, but has left Robert out there to take one-handed at-bats because, eh, he's not so bad at it?
This damn Tony La Russa must be stopped. If the White Sox are gonna go down—and at this point it seems mostly inevitable, no matter how friendly the remainder of their schedule—they at least deserve to go down without their own addled manager blasting holes in their hull. Hey, since we're already doing a nautical/sea thing:
Please send this hapless old man back into retirement.