CHICAGO — Garrett Whitlock had the Chicago White Sox right where he wanted them Sunday afternoon.
He struck out both Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal in the ninth, appearing as if there was no wear-and-tear from his two-inning performance the previous evening. The Red Sox scored a run in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday’s contest on an Alex Verdugo sac fly. It tied the game at one apiece and with Whitlock cruising it looked as if this game was headed toward an extra-inning contest for the second day in a row.
Whitlock had Leury Garcia 0-2 before Garcia popped a solo shot to end the game in walkoff fashion, leading to a 2-1 Red Sox loss.
The bats went silent for both squads in Sunday’s rubber match. Each team had just four hits through nine innings. The White Sox’ fourth hit in the bottom of the ninth, however, was the deciding factor in the Red Sox’ series loss.
Lance Lynn gave the Red Sox starting lineup a fit. He worked his way through a paper-thin group of Red Sox hitters for five scoreless innings while fanning nine batters in his first start since Aug. 28.
Nick Pivetta, who was reinstated from the COVID-related injured list for his Sunday start, matched Lynn, perhaps not with the strikeouts, but certainly effectiveness. Pivetta navigated his way through 5 ⅓ innings of work, surrendering three hits and fanning five.
”I just tried to compete with the strike zone and go out there and eat as many innings as possible,” Pivetta said. “The bullpen’s been taxed for the past couple of days so I just went out there with that mind-set of attacking the strike zone and trying to get deep.”
In the sixth, Cesar Hernandez reached on a throwing error by Kiké Hernández at second. The White Sox’ sacrifice then put a runner in scoring position and Luis Robert took advantage of the situation with his single to left.
Manager Alex Cora went to his bullpen, replacing Pivetta with Adam Ottavino.
”Robert put a good swing on it,” Cora said. “But [Pivetta] was amazing. He was really good. And stamina wise, he was really good, too.”
The Red Sox had some opportunities to capitalize in this one, especially in the ninth. Though they scored one run, the team had the ability to add on more. White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel struggled in that ninth inning, yielding a Hernández double that Robert misjudged in center to start the frame. Though Kyle Schwarber struck out, Hunter Renfroe walked on five pitches and Rafael Devers walked on four to load the bases. Verdugo’s sacrifice fly scored Hernández, but Bobby Dalbec chased a knuckle-curve off the plate to end the threat.
Overall, though, Cora was satisfied with how his team played.
”I’m pleased with the effort,” Cora said. “We played a great game. “We had our chances at the end there against Craig and we did a good job. We felt like where they were bullpen wise, it was worth taking a chance with Garrett there to extend the game. We felt like we knew they were short.
”The Red Sox now hop on a flight and travel west for a three-game set with the Mariners, a team that is also vying for a wild-card spot and began the day two games back of that second spot. The surging Blue Jays, meanwhile, are tied with the Red Sox for the first wild-card spot.
”We’re playing good baseball,” Cora said. “I mean, the last three games, they felt like the playoffs. The intensity. Obviously we lost, but we’ll be ready.”
Recently, Nate Eovaldi talked to Pivetta about keeping the blinders on. How it’s good to embrace a playoff race, but never to be, too, involved in the outcomes of other teams. Pivetta echoed as much after Sunday.
”I’m sure the fans are really enjoying it,” Pivetta said. “I think our focus is just going out day by day and then focusing on winning baseball games. Just go out there and compete and have fun.”