Sox Reporter

Young Sox face highest stakes yet: 'It's win or go home'

Sox Reporter

The White Sox, rapidly risen from rebuilders to contenders, have been saying all along that they want to be in baseball's biggest moments on baseball's biggest stage.

Well, it doesn't get any bigger than a win-or-go-home playoff game.

They had a chance Wednesday to win the franchise's first postseason series since the 2005 World Series. Instead, the Oakland Athletics hit Dallas Keuchel hard, Chris Bassitt shut down the South Side bats for seven innings, and the White Sox are suddenly heading for an elimination game Thursday.

That's how little room for error, and how quickly things can turn, in a best-of-three series.

RELATED: No Game 3 starter for White Sox yet, all hands on deck with season on line

"We all know what it means. It's win or go home," Yasmani Grandal said after Game 2. "We've just got to come back tomorrow, and it's do or die.

"Our season keeps on going or it stops tomorrow. You've just got to keep on playing our game, and we've seen that when we can do that, we come out successful."

The White Sox certainly weren't down after watching their 1-0 series lead change to a 1-all tie, buoyed by a late-game rally against A's closer Liam Hendriks they feel gave them the momentum, despite the result, heading into Game 3.

But things will be different Thursday than they were the first two days of this series, chiefly because the White Sox won't be able to throw an elite starting pitcher at the A's generally low-scoring lineup. Lucas Giolito and Keuchel were two of the best starters in baseball during the regular season, but there's a significant drop-off in the White Sox rotation after them. That's why manager Rick Renteria didn't even have a Game 3 starter after Game 2 ended. It might be Dane Dunning. It might just be a bullpen day. It might be both, depending on how long Dunning's leash would be in the event that he does get the start.

 

A critical decision to make with the season on the line.

The A's, though, are in the potentially unenviable position of having to throw another left-handed starter Thursday. Sean Manaea is likely their best option, but his left-handedness would open the A's up to a repeat of Game 1, when the White Sox bats — which torched southpaws all season — jumped all over Jesús Luzardo.

A critical decision to make with the season on the line.

The White Sox have navigated the series to this point without one of their best hitters, Eloy Jiménez still hobbled to the point he can't even play DH, unable to run the bases with his sprained foot. After his condition, according to Renteria, stayed the same from Tuesday to Wednesday, what are the chances he could recover in time for Thursday's must-win game? Or will his usage be limited to one Willis Reed style moment?

And the A's are in their own pickle, with Hendriks deployed for a whopping 49 pitches Wednesday. The A's have the best bullpen in baseball and certainly could throw numerous arms at the White Sox lineup. But in a save situation, would there be anyone else Bob Melvin would go to? Probably not. That would seem to be a plus for the White Sox.

These are the cards both sides will be playing with in Thursday's high-stakes hand of postseason poker. It's exactly the type of hold 'em the White Sox wanted to play while they spent the last three seasons racking up rebuilding losses.

For the dramatic shift in the series Wednesday's result was, however, no one seemed terribly panicked about facing elimination Thursday. That's good, from the White Sox perspective, as the "one game at a time, don't look past tomorrow" mentality they've subscribed to all season has gotten them this far.

Neither the manager nor his veteran players seemed to feel a need to deliver an overly intense message to the young players who are going through all this for the first time.

Win or go home is a marketing dream. It's just a fact of life for these guys.

"It’s kind of simple," Renteria said. "Everybody knows where it’s at. We have to go out there and win a ballgame. It’s go home if we don’t. Everybody understands what’s on the line. I think everybody has to stay relaxed, focused and continue to play the game."

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