Santiago Sunday & The Sox

The downpour finally subsided, moving on to the east, and Sunday showed promise. The suspended game from the night before would be resumed before a seven-inning contest to put a capper on the day. A perfect opportunity for the White Sox to get well against a still-developing Seattle Mariner outfit.

So we headed to the ballpark.

Sitting in a hot June sun down the third base line wouldn't have been my first choice, but with Dallas Keuchel taking over from Lance Lynn, who tossed three hitless innings Friday night before the storm interrupted activity, the Sox chances appeared promising. The presence of Hector Santiago on the mound for the Mariners aided that perception. The 33-year-old former White Sox draftee, pitching in his 10th big league season, could be described best as a journeyman, having toiled for five teams including two stints on the South Side.

Entering Sunday, Tony La Russa's charges had dropped six of their last seven encounters, primarily due to a power outage. The fellows had scored a mere 18 runs in those seven games. The team batting average was an anemic .192, with five home runs among their 14 extra base hits, five of which came last Wednesday in the week's lone victory in Pittsburgh. As we all recognize, you can't win in today's game unless you hit the long ball, as attested by the Sox record of 7-22 when they fail to blast a round-tripper.

When a ballclub is experiencing an offensive quagmire, not even good pitching or defense makes it look sharp. Keuchel provided an adequate performance Sunday, giving up two solo home runs among six hits over five innings before La Russa lifted him after 87 pitches. La Russa chose closer Liam Hendriks to handle the top of the ninth in a 2-2 deadlock. Unfortunately, Taylor Trammell sent a Hendriks offering over the right field wall, providing the winning margin for the visitors.

Of course, the Sox had ample opportunity to inflict damage against Santiago and five relievers who followed him. Leury Garcia singled home a run in the bottom of the fifth, and after Hector walked Luis Gonzalez to load the bases with one out, he was gone.

Well, not until the game was halted for about five minutes while the umpires conducted the equivalent of a prolonged traffic stop to examine Santiago's glove, uniform, hat, and body parts, ignoring only his locker and packed suitcase.

The umps determined that Hector - whom I always liked because he was willing to pitch, even somewhat effectively, in any situation - was a cheater. The end result was that Santiago, who already had been removed from the game, was thrown out by crew chief Tom Hallion, who made a dramatic motion of banishment.

Of course, this was reminiscent of the game five years ago when Adam Eaton, in his first go-round with the Sox, was tossed out for arguing a called third strike which ended the game. Hence he was ejected after the game officially ended.

"I don't know what he got ejected from," said then-manager Robin Ventura. "The game was over."

Sunday was a bit different since the quartet of officials determined that Santiago had a foreign - not to be confused with international - substance on his glove. The misguided crowd of an announced 30,017 booed Santiago, but the contempt should be aimed at Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Santiago thus became the first pitcher to be charged with doctoring the baseball under Manfred's edict that any guilty hurler would be suspended for 10 games while the club would be prohibited from replacing him on its roster.

As all this was happening, the band on my cap was damp with sweat, and perspiration was seeping through my t-shirt. My greatest form of exercise at that juncture had been bending my elbow to raise a can of Modelo to my lips. Meanwhile, Santiago had been expending far greater effort, having thrown 52 pitches over 2⅓ innings.

The absolute irony of this ruling by the commissioner is that rosin bags still rest in their traditional position on the ground behind the pitching rubber. Rosin, my friends, is a derivative of pine tree sap. Similar to anyone touching a pine tree emitting sap, last time I did so, my hand immediately resembled the back of a just-licked postage stamp. Poor Hector, bathed in sweat, said he had a decent amount of rosin, again, a legal substance, all over his equipment, uniform and body. Let's see what happens on appeal.

This mid-season legislation, intended to penalize pitchers under the guise of eliminating cheating in order to put more offense in the game, is simply another indication that people like Manfred continually make excuses for the slow, boring pace of the game.

Teaching hitters to use the entire field making shifts ineffective, choking up with two strikes, bunting for hits and hitting behind runners are the antidotes. The rate of strikeouts and pitchers' domination haven't diminished one iota since Manfred's ruling. In 16-inch softball, pitches need to have an arc, and a strikeout is an anomaly. So why not dictate that pitches more than 90 mph are automatic balls in major league baseball? You'd see a lot more offense and more plays on defense. However, that strategy seems about as foolish as Manfred's latest declaration.

The delay caused by the investigation of Santiago was just one of the distressing instances in Sunday's resumed game. I sat for 2½ hours as the Sox accounted for five hits, all singles. After Garcia's RBI single and the walk to Gonzalez, Tim Anderson grounded into a double play. An inning later after Yasmani Grandal's bases-loaded sacrifice fly for the first out, the Sox could score no more. Grandal's ninth inning single was the only hit over the final three innings as Yermín Mercedes grounded into another double play to end the game.

José Abreu writhed in pain on the ground after being hit flush on the left knee by a JT Chargois heater in the sixth inning, and more than a few fans said, "Oh, no not again," thinking of the devastating injuries that have shelved Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. Abreu was unable to put any weight on his left leg as he was helped off the field. After x-rays showed no fracture, he was listed day-to-day. If he plays this week in the four-game series against Minnesota, we should be surprised and thankful.

The other guy who may be less than 100 percent is third baseman Yoan Moncada, who jogged to first base on a grounder to short in his last at-bat in the eighth inning. He also took his time walking back to his position after chasing a pop foul earlier in the game. Moncada had a hit and a walk, and his batting average has remained in the .275-.280 range, but he hasn't homered since June 3. He has two doubles in the same time frame, and that's it as far as extra base hits are concerned.

So between the Sox dinky attack, the Santiago affair, Abreu's injury, and Hendriks giving up the game-winner, we did something Sunday that we haven't done in years. We left.

By the time we got home, the Sox had scored twice - the extent of their output for the entire first game - in the first inning of the second game which they won 7-5. Because the bullpen couldn't protect a 7-1 lead after five innings of the seven-inning contest, Hendriks was called upon again to close out the Mariners after Jimmy Lambert, who was returned to Charlotte after the game, gave up a three-run homer to Mitch Haniger.

As ugly as it has been, even the best teams endure the kind of recent streak the Sox displayed starting in Houston more than a week ago. Injuries certainly play a role, but not just for the Sox. Cleveland's Josh Naylor, an important part of an otherwise weak offense, went down Sunday in a horrific collision, winding up with a broken leg. So the Sox continue to hold a 2½-game lead in the AL Central although it is just one game in the loss column over Cleveland.

We have tickets for Wednesday. We plan on staying the whole game.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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