The T-shirts given away Thursday night at Guaranteed Rate Field read: “Ricky’s boys don’t quit.”
And Thursday night, Ricky’s boys didn’t.
Four runs in the eighth inning flipped what was storming toward a 2-0 loss into a 4-2 win for the last-place White Sox, still the owners of baseball’s worst record. But this developmental, rebuilding season is all about the silver linings, and a bunch of them were on display in the comeback effort, even if that comeback was much the fault of the also-in-last-place Texas Rangers.
But, hey, Ricky’s boys don’t quit.
“That’s our motto,” Yoan Moncada said through a translator. “Ricky always says that to us, ‘never quit, never quit.’ And we always try to do our best. We try to come here every day and go out there thinking that we have a shot that night to win the game. We always think that way. We try to play hard and try to do our best and win games. We never quit.”
More than anyone, this season is about progression and development for Moncada, the former No. 1 prospect in baseball who is without a doubt one of the cornerstones of this rebuild. He’s fresh off a DL stint, though he’s been perhaps the team’s best hitter, now the owner of a .270/.361/.500 slash line after a three-hit night Thursday. It was his double — who knew balls could get stuck in the outfield wall on the South Side, too? — that ignited the two-out rally in the eighth.
The White Sox could lose a billion games this season, but if Moncada’s numbers end up looking like this, that’ll be a tremendous positive moving toward that contention window opening. A slow start — remember when Moncada was hitting .184 through the season’s first 12 games? — has transformed into his being the best offensive player on the team, debatably.
Debatably because Matt Davidson also keeps managing to impress, and though he was hitless Thursday, he had the game’s biggest plate appearance, a bases-loaded walk that forced in the game-tying run in that eighth inning. It was his 23rd free pass of the season, now four above his 2017 total. Davidson’s revamped plate discipline has his on-base percentage at .367, more than .100 points higher than it was last year. His team-high 11 homers aren’t bad, either.
Davidson entered the season in “prove it” mode, looking to leap into consideration for a spot in this team’s long-term future while few penciled him in anywhere in their 2020 lineup projections. Though it’s still early, just a month and a half into the campaign, he’s looking like a guy who could line up alongside all those prospects currently developing in the minor leagues.
Especially if he keeps seeing the ball like this.
“It’s what I’m trying to accomplish, and it just shows you too how many at-bats you can throw away, I guess, if you swing at balls,” Davidson told reporters. “I could easily have swung at that next pitch, the slider away, and it shows you just don’t need to swing as often as we think. The plate is really small, sometimes we walk up there and we feel like it’s really big. The guy is 60 feet away trying to throw it over there so just really trying to think small in the zone and that’s about it.
“I’m sure last year I’d have swung at one of those.”
And how about this string of successful outings from James Shields? Big game or not, he was dealing Thursday, finishing with a season-high eight strikeouts in a season-high 7.1 innings. He allowed one run on three hits. A 3.94 ERA in his last five starts is nothing to play trumpets about, but he’s gone at least six innings in those outings and three of them have been quality starts.
Shields doesn’t factor into the White Sox long-term plans, but he could help out this rebuild should performances like this continue. Perhaps he catches the eye of a contending club this summer and gets the White Sox a prospect or two in a deadline deal. It’s hypothetical at the moment, but good starts like Thursday’s can only help.
Before Thursday’s game, general manager Rick Hahn talked about sharing the fan base’s disappointment in how this team has played, pointing to how sloppy the White Sox have looked at times. And certainly, even in a winning effort, there was sloppiness Thursday. Jose Abreu got hit with a fielding error. Moncada made a pair of outs on the base paths. Trayce Thompson threw a ball into the grass after fielding it in right field.
But in a season of silver linings, this team finally looked like it deserved the “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” title it earned in a host of fight-till-the-end efforts last season. The type of play that had Hahn and others raving about Renteria’s managing style during the offseason finally reappeared for a bit Thursday.
And for a team with such a bright future, it was good to see something shining here in the difficult present.
“It was huge,” Davidson said. “It’s fun, it’s part of our game that kind of came out.”