All the new additions to the White Sox roster this offseason had expectations pretty high.
So when the team opened the season with four consecutive losses, frustration set in among fans in pretty rapid fashion. You could tell that when the boos started raining down on Jeff Samardzija in the second inning of Saturday’s game against the Twins.
But by the time it was all said and done on the South Side, it was all those new additions that made the big plays en route to the White Sox first win of the season, a 5-4 comeback victory over the division-rival Twins.
Samardzija — arguably the biggest of those offseason acquisitions — struggled early, surrendering four runs in a nightmarish second inning to put his team in an early four-run hole. He gave up five hits in the frame, run-scoring knocks coming off the bats of Chris Herrmann, Shane Robinson, Danny Santana and Brian Dozier.
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But then came the response, triggered by a solo home run from Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the inning. And two batters after Avisail Garcia’s ground-rule double, Conor Gillaspie drove in another run with a base hit.
“I think it gave everybody a little deep breath,” Samardzija said of LaRoche’s home run. “I think the fans, the coaches, the players ... when he hit that pitch out everyone got a little excited and then shoulders relaxed a little bit and we went from there.
An inning later, Melky Cabrera scored on an RBI infield single off Garcia’s bat. And the comeback was completed with Geovany Soto’s solo shot to lead off the bottom of the fourth.
Samardzija settled down and kept the Twins silent for the rest of the day following his ugly second inning, retiring 14 of the last 17 hitters he faced en route to a seven-inning performance in his second start in a White Sox uniform.
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“He kind of got a little bit away from the strike zone, he was leaving a couple pitches up. But after that, we saw how he settled down,” Soto said. “His fastball’s there, his off-speed was sharp again. It was a blast after that.
“I feel like early (in his career) when he was trying to be a starter, he’d get to a rough patch and really didn’t know how to compose himself and make some pitches. But I think now after a couple years, he’s grown into a great starting pitcher. He knows what he’s doing out there. He has a great feel for all his pitches. And like you saw today in the second inning, he got rocked a little bit and he went out and he pitched seven innings.”
In the bottom of the eighth, with the game still knotted at four, pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck dumped a single into left field to score Alexei Ramirez and give the White Sox the lead.
“We were really excited,” Soto said. “It was really an exiting time. ... Gave us the lead into the ninth. I’m not going to lie, it was an awesome feeling to get that run into the ninth and see our closer close a game and get a ‘W.’ That was pretty cool.”
And David Robertson finished things off with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, earning his first save by striking out all three hitters he faced.
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Though they would have liked the first win of the season to come earlier in the week, the White Sox got exactly what they wanted when this new-look version of the team was constructed during the winter. The new guys came through: LaRoche, Soto, Samardzija, Robertson, Shuck. Even Zach Duke pitched a scoreless eighth and picked up his first win in a White Sox uniform.
“It’s nice,” manager Robin Ventura said. “These guys, it’s been tough for four games, but especially J.B. coming in there. Duke had the eight, Robertson the ninth. There are a lot of new faces for our fans to see, guys that really competed today. It’s tough when you are down 4-0 to be able to fight back and grind it through like that.”
That’s Rick Hahn’s offseason work paying off in a big way, albeit for the first time in this young season.
“Obviously, everybody knows it hasn’t been the start that we wanted,” Samardzija said. “Sometimes, you’re that hyped and you’re so excited you press a little too much and everybody wants to come out and have a great showing for the fans and show them what we’re all about. We’ll get there eventually. We need to come out and show what we can do. I think we saw all facets of the game today. We saw some great defense — obviously with Melky and Alexei there in the fifth for me and throughout the game. The bullpen pitched great, and we put a bunch of hits on the board and scored some runs. It was a great game for the team, and (I’m) just happy to be part of it.”
So the panic can cease. The White Sox won’t be going 0-162.