The White Sox return to U.S. Cellular Field to battle the Blue Jays tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.
Starting pitching matchup: Aaron Sanchez (7-1, 3.35 ERA) vs. Carlos Rodon (2-6, 4.16 ERA)
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BOSTON — James Shields took a step toward turning his season around, though there’s still plenty of room to improve.
The 34-year-old right-hander, who entered the day with a 21.81 ERA in three starts since being acquired from the San Diego Padres, allowed three runs over five innings in the White Sox 8-7 extra-innings loss to the Boston Red Sox Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park.
While it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster like his previous starts against the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Shields only lasted five innings and issued more walks (four) than he had strikeouts (three). Still, he was able to keep the White Sox in the game — and left with a lead — which represents a step in the right direction.
“Obviously my last three outings weren’t very good, so it’s definitely a positive,” Shields said. “I’ve been around the game a while, I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Body feels great, so we’ll move forward.”
Shields’ abbreviated outing, though, forced the White Sox to burn relievers Matt Albers (who hit a batter and gave up two hits) and Dan Jennings (who threw a scoreless inning) early. And with those two guys used, and reliable right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam on the disabled list, manager Robin Ventura turned to rookie Chris Beck in the seventh.
Beck avoided a meltdown but allowed a run. While Nate Jones ultimately gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, having to cover a dozen outs proved to be a difficult task.
“We were getting a little short today,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t have (Zach) Duke out there to be able to come in. We were trying to patch it together. These guys have been used a lot, so we knew we couldn’t necessarily go four outs with Jonesy or (David) Robertson. We were a little thin.”
Shields was generally better at getting ahead in the count, and held Boston scoreless through his first four innings. But after striking out Christian Vasquez and getting Marco Hernandez to ground out to begin the fifth, the Red Sox lineup turned over to face Shields for the third time. Mookie Betts’ single was followed by a Dustin Pedroia RBI double, though Xander Bogaerts popped out to end the inning.
Shields issued walks to David Ortiz — he thought his 1-2 slow curveball was a strike, though — and Ryan LaMarre before being pulled with no outs in the sixth.
“He was playing more in the strike zone early on in the at-bat than in previous starts,” Avila said. “Throughout the innings that he pitched there were times where he kinda got out of himself a little bit and rushed a little bit but he was able to make the adjustment much quicker than he did in his previous outings. A good start for him, pitched well, used everything. Was able to go both sides of the plate with a good mix of his pitches. Those are the types of starts that I’ve seen quite a bit of him make and would expect to make.”
Anything better than a figurative fireworks show would’ve been an improvement, and while Thursday wasn’t vintage Shields, it did represent a step in the right direction.
“Overall it was just me trying to relax and not trying to do too much for my new team,” Shields said. “I felt okay today. But there’s always room for improvement and I’m going to try to get better next time.”
BOSTON — The White Sox couldn’t hold two leads and couldn’t come through with the bases loaded twice late in the game, but head back to Chicago looking at the positives from taking three of four games from the Boston Red Sox.
Xander Bogaerts’ walk-off single off Matt Purke dealt the White Sox an 8-7 loss in Thursday afternoon’s series finale at Fenway Park, ending a four hour, 25 minute slog. The bigger-picture view of things was full of optimism, though, for a team that hasn’t had many reasons to take a glass-half-full approach over the last few weeks.
“The quality of baseball we played this series was probably the best baseball we played all year, including the nice start that we had,” catcher Alex Avila, who had four hits Thursday, said. “We played well with the lead, we played well when we were behind. (We) made some big pitches when we had to, got some big time hits when we needed to, which is something that’s been lacking past few weeks.”
A narrow view of Thursday’s game, though, has a more frustrating tone. The White Sox squandered a 4-1 lead, got it back on Jose Abreu’s go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the seventh, then gave that two-run advantage back in bottom of the seventh and eighth innings.
The White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the eighth but failed to score when J.B Shuck flied out to left (it wasn’t deep enough for Brett Lawrie to be sent home, even with natural third baseman Travis Shaw having to play left field), Tim Anderson struck out and Adam Eaton grounded out.
The same scenario played out in the top of the 10th, with Lawrie, Avila and Avisail Garcia again loading the bases but Shuck (popout), Anderson (strikeout) and Eaton (strikeout) failing to plate the go-ahead run against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel.
Bogaerts delivered his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th.
“We won three out of four — you look at it that way,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You could look at a lot of things negatively, but the way it’s been going for us, you win a series and get ready for tomorrow.”
The White Sox pulled off an impressive bases-loaded escape on Monday and won in extra innings, then cruised to a victory behind Chris Sale on Tuesday. Wednesday saw Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie blast home runs in a rare spate of run support for Jose Quintana in a comeback win. And while the final three innings Thursday were certainly disappointing, starter James Shields exited the game with a lead and Abreu momentarily picked up for a strung-out bullpen in the seventh.
“This was a good series,” Shields said. “We got swept in Cleveland, coming in here to Boston, one of the best hitting teams in the league and to do what we did three out of four is pretty good.”
Where Avila saw the greatest benefit to this series — outside of winning three games in a row for the first time since early May, of course — was getting some high-leverage experience for a handful of players. Michael Ynoa held on to a one-run lead in the eighth inning Wednesday, while Chris Beck — with an assist from a strange decision to bunt by Jackie Bradley Jr. — limited the Red Sox damage to just one run in a shaky seventh inning Thursday.
Whether the experience of this series pays off as the White Sox look to remain within striking distance for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008 remains to be seen. But for a team starved of positive morsels since early May, there was plenty to like about these four days in Boston.
“We need to graduate a little bit because we’re going to need everybody,” Avila said. “But overall we had a really good series, played really good baseball. It just shows you how tough it is to beat a team four days in a row.”