BALTIMORE, Md. — An excellent start by Lucas Giolito.
A three-RBI homecming game for Gavin Sheets.
And a bail-out double play with the bases loaded and one out by third baseman Yoan Moncada on a night he went 0-for-5 and left two runners on base.
As usual, there were no home runs and a lot of singles (12) as well as 14 runners left on base, but that was enough to lift the White Sox (63-61) to a needed 5-3 victory over the Orioles Wednesday that kept them within four games of the American League Central leading Guardians.
Four singles and a wild pitch in the eighth produced two insurance runs that became vital after closer Liam Hendriks gave up a two-run homer to Austin Hays in the ninth. That Sox pair of runs came after Moncada’s backhand stop, spin and throw across the diamond to Andrew Vaughn to retire Jorge Mateo ended the eighth after reliever Kendall Graveman walked Rougned Odor.
The Sox scored two runs in the first to give Giolito (10-7, 5.14 ERA) an early cushion. Andrew Vaughn singled, Luis Robert walked and Jose Abreu singled to load the bases with one out against right-hander Spenser Watkins, and Sheets, who grew up in Baltimore where his father Larry played for the Orioles in the 1980s, singled in two runs.
That was all the Sox mustered until Sheets’ infield single to shortstop gave them a 3-1 lead in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Giolito had one of his best starts of an inconsistent season, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out three.
Looking to mix things up in his lineup and generate more production, manager Tony La Russa said Eloy Jimenez, who reached base four times in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss and has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games, would move from third to fifth in the lineup Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a bruised left elbow.
Flourishing in the No. 3 spot, Jimenez was going to bat fifth with Luis Robert dropping down to third and Jose Abreu to fourth as they were placed Wednesday, although Robert looked bothered by the wrist that caused him to miss seven recent starts.
Abreu, who has 846 career RBI, has a tendency to be over-aggressive and chase pitches out of the zone in RBI situations, and La Russa said knowing Jimenez is behind him to get the job done could alleviate that.
“It has a real good chance to be more productive,” La Russa said. “It gives Abreu a chance to be more patient and Eloy hits wherever you put him.”
“I have no doubt in my mind [it will benefit Abreu].”
With the bases full and one out in the seventh Wednesday, Abreu struck out on a high and away fastball from Bryan Baker, putting pressure on Sheets with two outs against lefty reliever Keegan Akin. Sheets came through with his third hit and third RBI, an infield single.
There were no extra-base hits among the Sox’ 12 hits. They were tied for 12th in the American League in homers with 103, on pace to match the 136 hit by the Sox in 2015, their lowest in a season since they hit 110.
For a roster built to hit for power, this shortage magnifies its problems with runners in scoring position, although the Sox were 7-for-17 Wednesday with RISP.
“When you’re struggling like that you try too hard and the harder you try the worse you do,” La Russa said. “Problem is, it’s the big leagues. This league, either you do or you don’t. So it’s up to us to try and have them relax more and develop a better approach.
“But when you have that high a batting average [the Sox were second in the AL at .259] and that many guys on base, and that productivity problem. … And the home run thing, that’s one factor. You can win games with base hits.”
On this night, the Sox did just that.