The White Sox dropped another winnable game on Tuesday night.
General manager Rick Hahn spoke of his disappointment before Tuesday’s contest because he thought the White Sox should have had a more productive road trip. A 6-5 loss in 11 innings to the Houston Astros in front of 13,481 at U.S. Cellular Field probably didn’t make Hahn feel much better.
Though the first-place White Sox continued to fight despite playing without cleanup man Todd Frazier, they missed out on several key scoring opportunities and stranded nine runners in all. Evan Gattis made them pay with a two-out, two-run homer off Matt Albers in the 11th that sent the White Sox to their fifth loss in six games.
“From a big picture standpoint, we feel good,” Hahn said. “From a day-to-day standpoint, frankly we should have done a little better on the last road trip and I think everybody feels that way in there right now. We were in all six games, but wound up winning only two of them.”
The White Sox bullpen has been at the center of those struggles after an incredible run to start the season. The unit has a 5.03 ERA in 39 1/3 innings in May after posting a 1.69 ERA in April.
With the go-ahead run at second, Gattis fell behind Albers in the count 0-2. But Albers left a 92-mph sinker up and Gattis crushed it.
Zach Putnam also allowed a run in the eighth inning.
“That one pitch, you’d like to get it back,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “(Albers has) been pitching great for us and these last couple haven’t been what he’s been doing previously. But you still see it there, there was some zip on it and Gattis got the one he needed.”
The White Sox scored twice off the Astros’ bullpen.
Adam Eaton’s two-out RBI double off Tony Sipp in the 11th got the White Sox within a run. But Sipp struck out Alex Avila to strand the tying run.
Tyler Saladino also had a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning as Houston closer Luke Gregerson blew the save. But Gregerson extended the contest to extras as Jose Abreu grounded out and stranded a pair of runners. Abreu, whose fourth-inning solo homer off Dallas Keuchel got the White Sox on the board, stranded seven runners overall.
The White Sox seemed to have Keuchel on the ropes in the seventh inning as he walked the first two batters he faced on eight consecutive balls.
Even so, the White Sox immediately called for a sacrifice bunt from Saladino, who fouled off the first pitch and then laid one down just in front of home plate, which led to a force out at third base. Working with men on first and second, Keuchel couldn’t work out of the jam as he then walked Eaton on four pitches to load the bases.
But Ken Giles took over and struck out Jimmy Rollins and Abreu consecutively to strand the bases loaded.
“I don’t think you sit there and count on (Keuchel) going to continue to just throw balls, but once we got guys in scoring position, you feel like you have a chance,” Ventura said. “We got ourselves in a good situation and then they bring in a guy (Giles), that he just blew a couple of guys away.”
In an attempt to challenge more hitters, White Sox starter Carlos Rodon worked at a higher fastball velocity all evening and had some success. He hit 98 mph on the radar gun and struck out seven batters and only walked one.
But Astros first baseman Tyler White met two of Rodon’s challenges, homering to nearly the same spot in left field on both. White’s homers came on 3-2 and 3-1 counts, respectively.
Rodon allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in six innings.
The Frazier-less White Sox had few early chances against Keuchel, who retired 11 straight until Abreu’s homer.
The White Sox pulled ahead in the bottom of the fifth on four consecutive two-out hits. Dioner Navarro and Saladino doubled, which made it a 2-2 game. Eaton then singled in a run to put the White Sox ahead and Rollins singled. But Keuchel struck out Abreu to strand the pair.
“We left a lot of guys on base today, a lot of opportunities,” Ventura said. “Any time you lose like that you feel like that.”
The White Sox are 7-7 in May. They lead the division by 3 1/2 games, but have to feel like it could be larger. Avila said the solution to the team’s woes is simple.
“Win,” Avila said. “It’s pretty easy. Just get a good outing from your pitcher, make some clean plays in the field and get a timely hit when you need it. We battled today. Best way to do it is win.”