HOUSTON -- The big hit that has avoided the White Sox all season long struck again on Sunday afternoon.
A day after they couldn’t do anything with a man on second and no outs twice in a one-run loss, the White Sox matched their inept offensive ways.
The White Sox had the bases loaded in the seventh inning but couldn’t produce and the Houston Astros held on for their third straight win in this series with a 5-4 victory in front of 25,829 at Minute Maid Park.
Hector Santiago was charged with a loss even though he had only one bad inning and the White Sox fell 10 games below the .500 mark, their worst record since May 7, 2011.
The Astros send their best pitcher, Bud Norris, to the mound on Monday night in search of a four-game sweep of the White Sox, who have lost 12 of 13 on the road and 13 of 17 overall.
“We’re just not getting it done,” Adam Dunn said. “Since Day 1. … I’m speechless. I don’t know why our offense is sputtering. We got the talent and everything in place. We’re not producing.”
They have had plenty of opportunities in the first three games of the series.
Just as they did on Saturday night, when, down a run, they got the leadoff man to second with no outs in the eighth and ninth innings, the White Sox seemed poised to break through Sunday.
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Jeff Keppinger’s RBI single cut Houston’s lead to 3-2 ahead of Gordon Beckham’s single and a walk to Conor Gillaspie that loaded the bases.
But just as they sputtered Saturday, reliever Jose Cisnero bounced back on Sunday to deny the White Sox, who have averaged 3.6 runs through their first 66 games.
Last season the White Sox finished fourth in the American League when they averaged 4.6 runs per game.
Cisnero struck out Alejandro De Aza -- who also tripled, homered and scored two runs -- and needed only two pitches to retire Alexei Ramirez on a comebacker.
De Aza hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning off Astros closer Jose Veras to get within one run but the White Sox got no closer.
Sunday’s performance came on the heels of Friday night, when Chris Sale became only the third pitcher in 100 years to lose a game in which he struck out 14 batters and didn’t allow an earned run.
The White Sox finished 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and are 6-for-25 in the series. The team is hitting .243 with runners in scoring position this season and .231 with the bases loaded.
“You want something to happen once you get the bases loaded,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You put them in a vulnerable spot. You think you’re at least going to get another one out of that and you don’t, which is frustrating.”
For the third straight day, the White Sox had difficulty solving an Astros starter early. Dallas Keuchel retired 15 of the first 18 men he faced and didn’t allow more than one runner on base in each of his first five innings.
De Aza tripled to start the sixth and scored on a sacrifice fly but Alex Rios and Paul Konerko flew out. Over 6 1/3 innings, Keuchel allowed two earned runs and four hits while walking two.
He outperformed Santiago, who was hurt by a pair of walks in the second inning. After Chris Carter, who nearly homered an inning later but settled for a double, singled, Santiago walked Carlos Pena and Trevor Crowe. Matt Dominguez made Santiago pay when he hung a first-pitch curveball with a bases-clearing double for a 3-0 lead.
Santiago settled down from there, striking out the side in the second and third innings.
He struck out the Astros’ four-five hitters in the fifth with two aboard and allowed three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. Santiago gave up five hits and walked four.
Jason Castro hit a two-run, opposite-field homer off Matt Thornton in the seventh to extend Houston’s lead to 5-2.
“It’s not like we’re being blown out,” Santiago said. “It’s one-run games. You get one hit and it’s a different ballgame. With bases loaded, it changes the game around. We haven’t been able to get that one clutch hit you need to turn things around in the game. You keep battling and try to keep us in the game. Feel like we’re doing that right now. Bases loaded, one out, we just need to get the job done right there.”
Dunn said the close nature of the team’s losses only adds to the frustration. The White Sox are 18-23 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
“Our pitchers are going out there and keeping us in every single game, especially late in the game,” Dunn said. “We have opportunities late in the game to tie it or go ahead, and we’re not getting that knock.”