The White Sox season is over because the parade of pitchers used in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series couldn’t get the outs it needed to.
Dane Dunning got into an early jam. Garrett Crochet got injured. Codi Heuer got hit for a home run. Carlos Rodón got yanked for not being able to throw a strike. Matt Foster got scored on for not being able to throw a strike. Evan Marshall got the loss for not being able to throw a strike when he needed to.
Was it cumulative? Did it all stem from Dunning, the White Sox starter, getting pulled after facing only four batters? Yeah, maybe.
But these are the playoffs, where every run can be worth a million. This was an elimination game, where every failure can end a season. The stakes were so high, that Rick Renteria had to try to prevent the A’s from scoring in any way he possibly could.
And some of them didn’t work.
Had they worked, things would be different. Renteria would be the first White Sox manager to win a playoff series in 15 years. It probably wouldn’t have changed any Twitter user’s opinion of him. That narrative seems unshakable. But Renteria did what he thought he had to do.
Renteria has long accepted the part of the job that people, whoever they might be, might not agree with every move he makes. But he’s vowed to explain himself.
So here’s the South Side skipper explaining pretty much everything he did in Thursday’s game, the last one of the White Sox season.
Why did the White Sox start Dane Dunning?
Up until a few hours before Game 3, when the White Sox finally named a starting pitcher, it was a mystery who would get the ball first.
What was far more certain was that whoever it was likely wasn’t going to be expected to do much, with a well rested bullpen behind him.
In a hybrid old-school/new-school move, Renteria and the White Sox went with Dunning, a traditional starter, to play a non-traditional role as the opener.
“Obviously he's a starter, but by the same token it's a great experience for him and we believe he's capable,” Renteria said before the game. “I think whoever would have been the individual that started this game, we all know the importance of it, and anyone of them could either run long or run short based on where we're at.
“I think he showed us obviously some signs of being able to manage pitching in the big leagues and doing it well. I think this is going to be a nice look into that. Again, any one of the young men that we would have gone with certainly would have an opportunity of going long or short, depending on how the game's evolving.”
Why did the White Sox pull Dane Dunning after only 15 pitches?
Dunning, it turned out, had an extremely short run, throwing just 15 pitches to four batters before being pulled with two on and two out in the first inning.
According to Renteria, they were prepared to turn to the bullpen early. But they were hoping it didn’t have to happen quite that early.
The basic explanation — and this will become a common theme — is that Renteria was trying to prevent the A’s from scoring runs in a game where they were going to be at a premium. He especially wanted to prevent the A’s from scoring multiple runs at a time.
Dunning was fresh off two starts to close his regular season in which he gave up a combined eight earned runs in seven innings. Renteria saw the potential for first-inning damage by the A’s bats and made a change, bringing in Garrett Crochet to get the final out of the first inning.
“Had he gone clean, we just wanted to make sure we didn’t put ourselves in a position that could potentially put us behind,” Renteria said after the game. “It was thought out, it was talked about. It just happened to present itself a little sooner than I anticipated.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into a potential, not that it would have happened, but a potential three-run home run early in the ballgame.”
How badly did the injury to Garrett Crochet screw up the White Sox plans?
Crochet did bail out the White Sox in the first inning, striking out Matt Olson to end the inning and escape that jam.
But after Dunning faced just four batters, Crochet faced only two.
He returned for the second inning, striking out Khris Davis to start that frame. But his velocity was down. The guy who was routinely hitting 101 miles an hour during his appearances at the end of the regular season was reaching only into the upper 90s. The White Sox noticed that and pulled him out of the game with left forearm tightness.
“We looked at the velocities,” Renteria said. “We saw there was a dip, and I just thought it was a different type of pitch, but that’s why we walked out there. He wasn’t showing any signs. He wasn’t doing anything that really indicated anything was amiss.
“The velocity showed something, so we went out and talked to him. We asked him how he was doing, and he said he was fine. Obviously he had some tightness in that forearm.
“It wasn’t even a thought to leave him there. Once that was presented to us, obviously we saw the difference in the velocity, it was time to get him out.”
Of course, that ruined their plans for the next several innings, as Renteria explained they hoped Crochet would give them two innings after coming in in the first, getting them to the fourth. It obviously didn’t work out that way, and the White Sox were in a bind.
“Quite a bit,” Renteria said when asked how much Crochet’s injury affected their plans. “The reality was, believe it or not, we talked about the potential of that scenario in specific that came up in that inning that we were going to go to Crochet, get the out and then send him back out for two more innings and watch him and see how he was doing, minimize his pitch count.
“But that was not to be.”
Why did the White Sox turn to their best late-inning relievers so early?
With Dunning already pulled and Crochet out with an injury, the White Sox needed to cover 23 more outs in an elimination game, no easy task.
Of course, the reason a bullpen day seemed the best option from the get-go was that, besides the White Sox not having a reliable third starting pitcher to turn to, their relievers had been excellent during the regular season. Additionally, so many of them had proven themselves capable of going multiple innings at a time.
Unfortunately, though, many of them didn’t go long before they got into trouble Thursday. And with the emphasis on preventing any and all Oakland runs — because any lead could be an insurmountable one in a playoff game — Renteria made pitching change after pitching change with hopes of keeping the score where it was at the time.
And that meant calling on his best pitchers, even if those pitchers would customarily show up later in games.
“All we try to do is use our best guys moving forward,” he said. “We had to keep the game there. We had to keep them down. I think that's the most important thing. You're always trying to keep the offense from jumping on you. You want that space, and that's all we tried to do.”
Bummer relieved Crochet and got two ground outs to end the second inning. But he started the third with a leadoff walk and gave up a one-out single two batters later to give the A’s a scoring chance. The White Sox had a 3-0 lead by that point, but Renteria didn’t want that gap to shrink. He replaced Bummer with Heuer, who danced out of the inning, doing his job.
His job required him to go back out for the fourth, and that wasn’t some great ask, as Heuer had six outings that lasted more than an inning during the regular season. This time, though, he was unable to get out of trouble. He issued a one-out walk, then gave up a two-run homer to Sean Murphy to make it a one-run game.
Renteria had already used three of his best relievers, and each one ran into trouble, either because of injury or not getting the outs they needed to.
Why did the White Sox use Carlos Rodón in the fourth inning?
Rodón was not one of the White Sox excellent relief pitchers in 2020.
He barely pitched at all in 2020, making a couple of starts at the beginning of the season before going down for most of the remainder of the campaign with a shoulder injury. He returned in the season’s final week with the White Sox eyeing him as a potential bullpen option in the postseason.
Well, his regular-season relief debut went poorly, dropped into a bases-loaded situation in Cleveland and giving up a game during the White Sox 2-8 finish to the campaign.
Just like he did that night in Cleveland, Renteria called on Rodón on Thursday to get only one out. And just like that night in Cleveland, Rodón couldn’t. This time the bases weren’t loaded, they were empty, but the stakes were still high, with the White Sox suddenly in a one-run elimination game.
Rodón walked Tommy La Stella, then promptly gave up a double to Marcus Semien, putting two A’s in scoring position. Then came an intentional walk, and Rodón was out of the game.
Matt Foster came into the same bases-loaded situation Rodón had in Cleveland a week earlier, and he walked the first two batters he faced, first tying the game, then giving the A’s the lead.
Plenty wondered why Rodón had come in in the first place. Could Heuer not have finished the inning after giving up the homer? Not in Renteria's opinion.
“(Heuer) was already tiring from our view,” Renteria said after the game. “He was already tiring, and it gave us a chance to go ahead and give Los the best matchup he could get.
“When we bring these guys in, we don't go in there expecting that they're going to fail. We go in there expecting that they can work. And obviously Los is really good. His fastball was good, his slider was really good. And they ended up getting him, and that's it.
“Codi was running out of outs, he was running out of gas.”
Why did the White Sox loss look like ‘a disaster’?
Frank Thomas has been speaking for White Sox fans a lot lately, and he called the team’s loss in Game 3 “a disaster” on the postgame show.
Making a pitching change because you don’t want the pitcher who just got into trouble to give up any runs in a close game sounds like a reasonable explanation. But that’s unlikely to satisfy fans who sat through the White Sox bowing out of the playoffs.
After Foster walked in a couple of runs in the fourth, the White Sox scored to tie the game in the very next inning. Unfortunately, Evan Marshall allowed the A’s to go back in front when he couldn’t get the third out of the bottom of the fifth. After two quick outs, Marshall sandwiched a pair of walks around a catcher’s interference, and then a single drove in two runs and created the final score.
That was the game.
Of course, there are two sides to a baseball team, and while the White Sox dependable relievers all had bad days on the same day, the offense couldn’t cash in on its many opportunities, stranding 12 runners and going 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position. It was a two-run game, and the White Sox left the bases loaded in the seventh and had their MVP, José Abreu, hit into an inning-ending double play while threatening in the eighth.
It looked like a disaster because Renteria had to keep walking out to the mound and calling on new pitchers after the previous arms couldn't get the job done. The White Sox walked nine guys Thursday.
Renteria needed Dunning, who impressed in his first taste of big league ball, to get through the first inning without getting into trouble. It didn’t happen.
Renteria needed the fireballing Crochet, who had nearly every hitter he faced during the regular season flummoxed, to give him a couple innings. It didn’t happen.
Renteria needed Bummer and Heuer and Foster and Marshall, who had regular-season ERAs of 0.96 and 1.52 and 2.20 and 2.38, to do what they had done all season long and shut down the opposition. It didn’t happen.
Renteria needed Rodón to get one out. It didn’t happen.
And so it was indeed disastrous and the White Sox hoped-for October run ended on the first day of the month.