"If you're not going to win the game," Chicago White Sox outfielder Jake Lamb said, "then that's definitely the next best thing."
Following Tuesday night's 6-5 defeat, the White Sox are down 1-2 in their four-game set with the Cleveland Indians.
But the series is living up to the hype of being arguably the first really important one of the White Sox season.
Wins count the same in April and May as they do during the summer, of course, and the White Sox proved during the season's first third how realistic their sky-high World Series goals are. But for two months, we've heard over and over how early it was.
But now June has arrived, and with it, the slow revving up of pennant races across the majors.
The American League Central title will not be decided this week in Northeast Ohio, not with four months' worth of baseball to follow. But the White Sox are getting a taste of how tough it might be to shed Cleveland this summer in the apparent two-horse race for the Central crown.
"These are big games," Lamb said. "They're in our division. They're a great team. They're playing well. They're always going to be intense games when you've got two teams at the top of the division going at it."
That always impressive Cleveland pitching staff stands in the White Sox way, and the best of that bunch stood in the White Sox way Tuesday night. They had some chances to get to an unusually wobbly Shane Bieber, and Billy Hamilton struck with a combination of newfound power and famed speed to bring three runs home on a Little League inside-the-park homer in the second inning. But that's the lone damage the White Sox managed off the reigning Cy Young winner.
They still found a way to impress, though, even on a night when Dylan Cease didn't have it, tagged for six runs and failing to make it out of the fourth inning. The White Sox teed off on elite Cleveland reliever James Karinchak for the second straight day.
It was against Karinchak — who came into this series with a 1.59 ERA and just six hits allowed in 22.2 innings — in the dramatic first game of Monday's doubleheader that José Abreu put together his unforgettable sacrifice fly and Adam Eaton launched a two-run homer. Tuesday night, the White Sox entered the ninth down three and knocked Karinchak around for four singles, two runs and a bases-loaded chance for the MVP.
Abreu grounded out to end the game with the tying run on third base, the ninth-inning rally coming up short. But the White Sox managed to keep the intensity coming at the team trying to chase them down in the standings, a team they could be locked in a summer-long duel with for divisional dominance.
"(Karinchak is) one of their late-inning guys. He's got good stuff, and I loved how we put pressure on him tonight," Lamb said. "He ended up getting the job done. Not to repeat myself, but if you're not going to win a game, he'll remember that one. And just as far as putting pressure on him late in the game, that was huge for us.
"These guys are awesome," Lamb continued, talking about his White Sox teammates. "It's such a fun group. There's so much confidence, borderline cockiness. But at the same time, we've got a bunch of workers in here, and we go about it and play the game the right way and play the game hard and we prepare the right way.
"If you're looking for a winning baseball team, that's what you look for."
The White Sox continue to show exactly what made them a first-place club through the season's first two months, and Tuesday, it was the contributions of guys like Hamilton and Lamb that stood out.
Those two were much maligned early in the season, their bats not delivering in clutch situations while thrust into different roles than they expected thanks to the injury to Eloy Jiménez. The injury to Luis Robert only shone a bigger spotlight, but the two have started to deliver. Hamilton has found an out-of-nowhere power stroke in recent games, while Lamb has steadily contributed under the radar. He owns a .404 on-base percentage after a two-hit, two-walk night Tuesday.
The typical dominance of the starting rotation was absent Tuesday, but the bullpen managed to impress, Ryan Burr and Garrett Crochet throwing three scoreless innings to keep things in striking distance for an offense that awoke against Karinchak in the ninth.
Finding silver linings in a loss is no one's favorite pastime, of course. But for a team with World Series aspirations, it's the signs shown in intense matchups like these, against division rivals and fellow contenders, that show what's possible come October.
"It's what they've been doing every night," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said of the ninth-inning fight his team showed Tuesday. "We've got that part covered, and we're not going to lose it. ... I'm just impressed with the fact we keep playing nine. If we do that, good things will happen.
"There were a lot of good things, except for the score."