The White Sox didn't win Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series, setting up a win-or-go-home situation in Game 3.
But the way things ended Wednesday afternoon in Oakland made them far more confident that Thursday won't be the final day of their season.
The White Sox were stymied for much of their 5-3 loss by A's starter Chris Bassitt, a former South Side hurler who did to them what Lucas Giolito did to the Oakland bats in Game 1. But they chased Bassitt in the eighth inning, and once A's manager Bob Melvin brought in his closer, Liam Hendriks, the White Sox staged a rally over the game's final two innings that they felt gave them the momentum heading into the winner-take-all game Thursday.
"Playoff time is all about momentum and who has it and who doesn't," White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal said after the game. "By us kind of bringing it back and putting it on our side, I think puts us in a pretty good spot tomorrow."
Tim Anderson started the eighth with a base hit to chase Bassitt, and he was aboard for the ride when Grandal homered off Hendriks two batters later, his second eighth-inning dinger in as many days. That made it a three-run game, and a shutout that felt like a blowout turned suddenly. José Abreu followed Grandal's homer with a single, but the White Sox were forced to stop their eighth-inning surge when Nomar Mazara was called out on strikes, Strike 3 well out of the zone, and Luis Robert followed with a strikeout of his own.
But they came back against Hendriks in the ninth. After two quick outs, Nick Madrigal and Anderson put together back-to-back base hits. Yoán Moncada drew a walk that brought Melvin out to yank his closer. Grandal drove in another run with a bases-loaded walk against the new Oakland arm before the game finally ended on a hard-hit Abreu grounder.
The game was over, the A's had won. But the White Sox might have struck a critical blow ahead of Game 3.
"The way they finished the last couple of innings, the way they were putting it together, says a lot about them and how we were trying to string things together," manager Rick Renteria said. "They really battled in those at-bats. Even with Bassitt going back out there, those guys put it together and tried to do a little something.
"It certainly feels different than if it had been a 5-0 ballgame. It’s totally different when you’re fighting, fighting, fighting and you put yourself in that position. They never quit. They never gave up. Hopefully we can just carry that into the game tomorrow."
Getting "big mo" on their side might prove important enough, as Grandal mentioned. But what they did against Hendriks was notable in its own right.
Hendriks might have been the best closer in the American League this year, finishing the regular season with a 1.78 ERA — a mark that stood at 1.13 until he gave up a couple earned runs in his final appearance before the playoffs. He was a perfect 14-for-14 in save chances.
But the White Sox got to him plenty Wednesday, forcing him to throw 49 pitches.
The playoffs are different, and it wasn't at all shocking to see Melvin turn to his best relief arm with Moncada, Grandal and Abreu due up in the eighth inning. That didn't go the way he wanted it to, though, and Melvin suddenly needed his closer after a five-run lead was whittled to three. The ninth didn't go much better for Hendriks.
While Melvin said after the game that Hendriks will be available with the season on the line in Game 3 — again, no surprise there — if he's needed Thursday, Hendriks will be pitching a day after throwing nearly 50 pitches, perhaps opening himself up to some more damage in what could be another critical situation.
"It's very important," Grandal said. "Obviously he's one of the most elite guys in the game. He's got electric stuff. You know that when he's in the game, you're going into war, you're going into a battle against him and he's going to come right at you.
"The fact that we were able to get that many pitches out of him — I think they expected him to just get five outs or four outs, and we were able to battle him and get to him late. So that's a plus for us.
"But I'm pretty sure that if they're in the same situation tomorrow, he's going to be in there. Obviously he's their guy."
At the very least, though, the White Sox will head into Game 3 feeling a lot better than they could have. It hasn't really seemed difficult for them to treat a big game any differently from any other one this season. But as Renteria mentioned, 5-3 with a late rally is a lot different than a 5-0 blanking.
Instead of coming off a blown opportunity to put the series away now standing on the edge of a cliff, they feel they gave it their all, and they did. And that's a big mental boost ahead of a game where the season will be on the line.
The late rally might not have won Game 2. But it could win Game 3.
"I really think the eighth and ninth helped us out a lot today," starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. "I mean, we were getting shut out, we were getting shut out by a good pitcher and a good team. But I think the momentum from the end of the game could really help us put our best foot forward."