HOUSTON — The Chicago White Sox tried to keep Game 2 close.
First they tried to keep a lead. Then they tried to keep a tie. Then they tried to keep it from getting worse.
They did not try to use Michael Kopech.
As the White Sox fell for a second straight day in their American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, now a loss away from a second consecutive three-game playoff exit, one of their most effective pitchers stayed on the sidelines, sparking plenty of frustration among fans on social media and on the postgame show.
It's not that the relievers the White Sox trotted out after Lucas Giolito's day ended with one out in the fifth inning weren't capable of getting the job done. It's just that, you know, that Kopech guy is pretty good. Maybe you'd want to use him in the most important game of the season?
"We were going to play the game today, and if we needed him to win the game, we would have pitched him," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the 9-4 defeat. "But whatever happens (in Game 3) on Sunday, we've got his length there. That's another big asset for us. We didn't have to waste it.
"He could have pitched an inning today and still been available. He'll be even more available."
That's likely not the response any White Sox fan wants to hear, not with Kopech potentially helpful in avoiding the situation the team is now in, where it must win three straight games to avoid a first-round elimination.
La Russa's explanation rejected the notion that the White Sox were saving Kopech for use later in the series, which seemed, while speculative, rather logical considering Carlos Rodón's health status.
The White Sox have been adamant about getting whatever they can out of Rodón, whose persistently sore left shoulder has made it a mystery what he'll be able to provide this month. Perhaps there was a situation where the White Sox would only be comfortable starting Rodón in Game 3 or 4 if Kopech, who was stretched out to three-inning outings at the end of the regular season, was available to back him up.
Again, La Russa seemingly did away with that idea. But here's Kopech after two games in this series, yet to throw a pitch and likely able to throw three innings if needed in a must-win Game 3. He's now "even more available," as La Russa said.
In the end, while fans might have preferred Kopech's presence to Garrett Crochet's in the fifth inning, when Giolito exited and the Astros tied the game, the final score was determined with the team's setup men on the mound in the seventh. Aaron Bummer gave up the lead on a trio of ground-ball base hits. Then Craig Kimbrel entered and yielded a two-run double and a two-run homer with two outs, allowing the Astros to blow the game wide open.
Even had Kopech been called on earlier, it would have been no surprise to see those same two relievers in the seventh.
Indeed, it was the Astros' own championship-caliber play that was the main reason for the White Sox taking a pair of losses in the series' first two contests. They've been the better team.
But if you were wondering where Kopech was Friday, well, there's your answer, however satisfactory.