Chris Sale is the goat of Tuesday night. In the 8th inning, with the Sox up 6-4, he threw a 2-run homer to Billy Butler, tying the game, and dooming the rest of the night to typical White Sox-Royals extra-inning tragedy/horror.
Well, he isn’t really a goat. Sale didn’t so much make a mistake, as he clearly adhered to the planned approach to attack Butler on the outer half the plate, challenged him with his fastball, and lost. It sure wasn’t great, but it happens, even to good relievers like Sale.
It seems pretty clear that Sale was setting up as the 8th inning guy to get through to Matt Thornton–the closer, lest you forget–for the 9th. Given the context-neutral scenario of the White Sox entering the 8th with a two-run lead and Thornton and Sale lined up, most White Sox fans would feel pretty confident, with little reason to complain, or write crabby blog posts.
However, the 8th inning, with their 2-3-4 hitters (Melky Cabrera, Alex
Gordon, and Billy Butler) coming up, clearly represented the best
opportunity for Kansas City to score. Not only did the Sox keep their
best reliever stashed in the pen for this situation, but left him in the
pen throughout the 13-inning game, waiting for a save situation that
never arrived while Tony Pena gave up two base-hits to lose it.
The 8th inning scenario represents the White Sox bypassing a rather
obvious opportunity to abandon the traditional closer role, their
failure to use Thornton in extra innings represents the team being
imprisoned by it. If nothing less than the 9th inning is important
enough to merit Thornton’s services, then it’s curious where sudden
death baseball is supposed to register on the leverage hierarchy.
Guillen’s record with managing Jenks, and his use of Thornton in the
finale against Cleveland suggests he’s a lot more liberal with his
closer use when trailing, but the prospects of continuing to use
Thornton as his ‘best reliever’ to match up in key innings to secure
wins appear slim.
I generally don’t like to get in the game of dithering about who should
be playing when with a manager who is trying to share playing time
across a roster over an entire season, and maybe wanted to give Thornton
more rest than just the off-day…especially with a day game on
Wednesday. But there was a winnable game Tuesday night, and it doesn’t
seem like we used our best tools.
But at least we have a closer.