"Everybody wants to put it on me? Put it on me."
White Sox fans didn't need Rick Renteria's go-ahead to heap heat on the South Side skipper Thursday night.
The team's in a tail spin at the moment, on a nasty skid after getting swept out of Cleveland by a surging Indians team. The White Sox have lost five straight, six of their last seven and seven of their last nine as they close in on the postseason. A lead in the American League Central standings is gone. They're a game out of first place and just a game separates them from third place as they head into the final series of the regular season.
Thursday's defeat continued a string of brutal losses, and fans jumped all over a seventh-inning bullpen decision by Renteria as the cause. They did the same in each of the previous nights, when White Sox relievers gave up a pair of walk-off home runs. At least in those games, the White Sox offense was also partially to blame, unable to do much in the way of damage against Cleveland's exceptional pitching staff.
Thursday, though, that struggling lineup finally broke through and did so against one of the Indians' many terrific starters, Zach Plesac, in the top of the seventh. Yoán Moncada motored his exhausted body to third base for a leadoff triple and then home on a ground out to give his team a lead. A few batters later, Nomar Mazara delivered his biggest knock of the season and drove in two more runs.
But the three-run lead evaporated in a hurry. Jimmy Cordero loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the inning, following with two outs. Renteria called on Carlos Rodón, fresh off the injured list, to get one out and send the game to the eighth. Rodón, who hadn't pitched in a big league game since Aug. 3 and hadn't pitched in relief since 2015, gave up a base hit to Cesar Hernandez that scored two runs and made it a one-run game. Then he gave up a double to José Ramírez, baseball's hottest hitter, that drove in two more runs and put the Indians in front.
"He's a big league starter. He's been in the big leagues going on five years now. He's handled those types of situations before," Renteria said of Rodón after the game. "Coming off of all the preparation he's been doing, we weren't asking him to go through a full inning. It was just going to be trying to get the one out. Obviously it didn't work.
"You've got a guy that's been a starter. We talk about situations that are going to present themselves as we move forward into the postseason. Do I want to find out then, or do I want to find out now? It was intended to be a short stint, obviously."
White Sox fans didn't find that explanation satisfactory, their biggest question being why Renteria didn't turn to the other guy who came off the injured list Thursday.
Aaron Bummer, when healthy, is the White Sox go-to guy in high-leverage situations, their best and most important weapon out of the bullpen capable of pitching multiple innings and getting both right- and left-handed hitters out. Of course, he, too, is fresh off an IL stint that last a month and a half.
"We wanted Bummer for a complete inning. I couldn't put Bummer out there and then send him back out the next inning," Renteria said. "It was one out we were trying to get. It didn't work. No, we weren't going to rush Bum to get ready for that particular situation. We already had it set up. In a perfect world, best laid plans, obviously, Bum goes out there in the eighth and does what he did and it works out.
"Everybody wants to put it on me? Put it on me."
Bummer did end up pitching the eighth inning, albeit it with his team behind instead of in front.
Back to the blame game, though.
Renteria asked for it, and certainly he's getting it from White Sox Twitter. Rodón was presented with that information postgame and suggested an alternate target of frustration.
"I’m the one who threw the pitch. I’m the one who gave up the hits," Rodón said. "He had nothing to do with throwing any pitch. So it’s not on him."
Of course, it's difficult to judge that situation as anything but a tough one for Rodón. As experienced as he might be in facing all sorts of situations as a big leaguer, this was a first — or at least a first in a very long time — for him, coming out of the bullpen with the bases loaded in a nail-biter of a game with the team trying to stand up after a series of crushing losses. Plus, this is still a pennant race, with the White Sox still fighting for the AL Central crown.
It was a lot. And Rodón was in his first outing since the third day of August. He wasn't being eased in, by any means.
But as Renteria mentioned, this is the kind of situation that Rodón would be thrown into during the postseason, where he's never pitched. Thursday was another gut punch, sure. But certainly not as bad of one had it occurred next week. Perhaps this is merely the cost of getting ready for the playoffs?
"I think anybody on this pitching staff, mindset-wise, wants that situation, including myself, of course," Rodón said. "So when the manager calls your name and the bell rings, it’s time to do your job. Unfortunately today it just didn’t happen.
"Any of us have to be ready for that kind of situation, especially going into this postseason. "
Rodón might still be a starting pitcher moving into the future. But in the present, he's a reliever.
Someone who definitely won't be relieving come playoff time, Dallas Keuchel, evaluated the situation as a tough one to throw Rodón into.
"It's very tough," he said. "I was bounced back and forth between the starting role and the bullpen my first couple of years, and I threw a few times out of the bullpen. I remember in 2015, I came out of the bullpen in Kansas City in Game 5 (of the ALDS) and gave up a three-run homer to Kendrys Morales, so I have no room to talk about (that) it should be easy to come into ballgames.
"His name's called, and he was man enough to say he didn't get the job done and made no excuses about it. We're starters for a reason. There's bullpen guys for a reason. I'm not one to make excuses, like I said. He had a tough position to come into.
"Man, I was glad I wasn't in the game, because that's a very tough spot."
Renteria volunteering to take the blame is no surprise, of course. The buck stops at his desk. But there have been a lot of bucks arriving in the last few days.
Whether you want to point the finger at Renteria or Rodón or anywhere else over the course of Thursday's nine-inning ballgame, the reality doesn't change: The White Sox are exactly where a team shouldn't want to be heading toward the postseason.
This team doesn't seem terribly fazed, at least not in its public comments, opting to stick to the positive approach that got them this far. Indeed, the White Sox have shown they're capable of flipping a switch and turning a season around in a hurry. But they're running out of opportunities to flip said switch.
There are three regular-season games left, this weekend against the Crosstown-rival Cubs. Then come the playoffs, the opening round a best-of-three series with hardly any margin for error.
Bummer said before Thursday's game: "It has been a tough stretch, but this doesn’t mean anything in the postseason."
The postseason starts in five days.