White Sox

Carlos Rodon finds groove in win over Orioles

Carlos Rodon finds groove in win over Orioles

Where did Saturday night’s effort rank among this year’s outings for Carlos Rodon?

“Better. A lot better. What we’re looking for.”

That might be putting it mildly, as Rodon was terrific in the second game of a three-game weekend set with the Baltimore Orioles, holding the first-place team to just a pair of runs — only one earned — in his six innings of work.

Rodon didn’t get a decision, but it was his shutdown of the Baltimore bats that allowed his teammates to score a 4-2 win with a pair of runs in their final two trips to the plate.

Rodon wasn’t handed an easy start, as the game’s first two batters reached base when White Sox fielders had difficulties catching the ball, putting runners at first and third with nobody out in the first. But right then, Rodon showed he was a different pitcher from the one who allowed five runs in his first start back from a DL stint.

Rodon struck out the next three hitters he faced to end the inning and sat the next 10 down in order.

“It was very impressive for him to go out there,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t help him very much there in the first, but he reared back, had some velocity to it. His slider was great, it had a lot of break to it. This is probably one of his better ones with being able to go deep into the game and keep a very good lineup off balance.”

“Tough situation,” Rodon said, “had to get the guys out of it, try to get out of the inning, get the bats going.”

The White Sox bats did get going, if only just a little, spotting Rodon a two-run lead thanks to Melky Cabrera’s RBI double in the first and Tyler Saladino’s solo homer in the third.

But after those 10 straight outs, Rodon ran into a little trouble in the fourth, putting two runners on ahead of J.J. Hardy’s smash double to right-center field. Luckily for the White Sox, the ball hopped over the fence, the ground-rule double preventing one of the runners from scoring. Rodon retired the next batter and escaped with minimal damage.

The same was true of the sixth, when after Rodon loaded the bases with just one out, he coaxed a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hardy and struck out Nolan Reimold to end another threat with just one run of damage.

That one run tied the game, and Rodon exited after six unable to get a win. But his work in keeping the Orioles at bay was impressive.

“You see those guys step in the box. One through nine, any of those guys can hurt you,” Rodon said. “That was the mindset: ‘Can’t just leave it over the plate here, man, they’ll hit you out. Doesn’t matter who it is.’ So the whole time I had to go full bore at them, especially when it’s a close game like that.”

The White Sox rewarded their starting pitcher with a team win later in the game, scoring a go-ahead run on Omar Narvaez’s bloop base hit down the left-field line — which was initially ruled foul before video review overturned the call — and adding an insurance run on Adam Eaton’s solo homer in the eighth.

At night’s end, Rodon didn’t get a win, but his team did, mostly thanks to him. Rodon allowed two runs, just one earned run, on five hits and two walks, striking out seven in one of his best starts of the season. It was just the third time he allowed fewer than two earned runs in a start.

And he showed a little emotion, too, getting visibly pumped after he overpowered the Orioles in that first inning.

“He has it, he always has it,” Ventura said of that emotion. “Sometimes it’s directed at a water cooler, but he has it. He has great stuff. He has the fire and everything that’s in there. You’re just hoping that that gets directed toward home plate and he can throw strikes like that. But velocity-wise, he was up there tonight. He had some adrenaline going.”

The White Sox envisioned starts like this one when they made Rodon the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, and the left-hander is still considered one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle when it comes to the franchise’s future.

But Rodon doesn’t think about that when he’s on the mound.

“I just try to keep my mind of it, those kind of expectations,” Rodon said. “Just go out there and compete and play baseball like I was a little kid.”

Saturday night, that little kid was pretty darned good.

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka was a phenomenon in 2018. But before there was Daniel Palka, there was Dan Pasqua. You might have heard the Palka/Pasqua comparisons on White Sox game broadcasts or within White Sox fan circles. Both are lefty sluggers with a similar build: Palka listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Pasqua at 6-foot-0 and 203 ppounds. Both led the White Sox in home runs in their age-26 seasons: Pasqua with 20 in 1988, Palka with 27 in 2018. And hey, they have the same first name and last initial!

Pasqua, nicknamed “The Hammer,” turned 57 years old Wednesday. Let’s learn a few more things about him.

— He was a teammate of John Elway (for four games with Oneonta of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1982), Bo Jackson (with the White Sox from 1991 to 1993) and Michael Jordan (for four games with Birmingham of the Southern League in 1994).

— He was the 1985 International League MVP with the Columbus Clippers.

— He homered in his MLB debut on May 30, 1985, with the Yankees

— He was Sports Illustrated’s 1987 preseason pick to lead the American League in home runs. He finished with 17, only 32 behind Mark McGwire.

— He hit a Comiskey Park roof shot on May 30, 1989.

— He hit the last triple (and had the last RBI) in Comiskey Park history on Sept. 30, 1990.

— He hit a 484-foot home run, the third-longest by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, on April 27, 1991.

— He finished his MLB career with 117 home runs, tied with all-time great outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Ichiro Suzuki.

And finally, let’s compare Pasqua to Palka statistically. Since Palka had 449 career plate appearances through the end of the 2018 season, here's the duo's numbers through their first 449 career MLB plate appearances.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.