La Russa’s call to bunt backfires in Sox’ loss to TigersBrian Sandalowon June 5, 2021 at 10:47 pm

Jeimer Candelario forces out Jake Lamb in the sixth inning Saturday. | Getty

Despite the outcome, La Russa didn’t regret the decision to have Danny Mendick sacrifice against struggling Tigers pitcher Derek Holland.

The White Sox finally had their chance. Facing struggling Tigers reliever Derek Holland in the sixth inning, the Sox had already scored twice on a Jake Lamb double and had runners on first and second with nobody out.

But instead of letting Danny Mendick swing away, Sox manager Tony La Russa called for a bunt. With Detroit expecting it, Mendick’s attempt went to first baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose throw to third forced Lamb.

Grounders from Tim Anderson and Nick Madrigal ended the inning, and killed the Sox’ last true threat in their 4-3 loss Saturday to the Tigers.

Even if the bunt had worked, it would’ve given an out to a pitcher who had allowed a single, two doubles and a walk and started the day with a 9.00 ERA in 12 games. The bunt didn’t work, and effectively short-circuited the Sox’ best chance for a big inning.

La Russa, however, didn’t regret the decision.

“What was the score at the time? 4-3?” La Russa said. “Is the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at first? And if he bunts them over, you’ve got Anderson and Madrigal? I think that’s the play.”

Mendick’s bunt, which came after Zack Collins walked during an at-bat La Russa had him try to sacrifice, wasn’t the only play that left questions.

On the same play Yasmani Grandal struck out looking, Yoan Moncada didn’t slide and was thrown out trying to steal second to end the seventh. Again, La Russa defended his move.

“It’s 3-2 and we started the runner. (Grandal) fouled a couple balls off, and then he took a pitch that he thought was a ball and the guy threw (Moncada) out,” La Russa said. “The bunt is not an aggressive play, and it didn’t work. That was an aggressive play, and it didn’t work. So make of it whatever you want to. That’s one good thing about watching the game, you know what my strategy was.”

La Russa’s strategy and moves have been a constant talking point this year. Saturday will add more to that conversation, while La Russa will have to wait another day to pass John McGraw for second on the all-time managerial wins list.

What the Sox also couldn’t do much of was hit Tigers starter Tarik Skubal. Over five innings, Skubal struck out 11 and got the best of the Sox for most of the day, making their opportunities to score even more precious.

“He landed curveballs when he needed to,” said Madrigal, who drove in the Sox’ opening run with an RBI single in the first. “You could see how much talent he has, and the stuff. Just kept us off balance when he needed to.”

Skubal was helped by a Tigers offense that got three home runs off Sox starter Lucas Giolito, including two from Eric Haase with the other by Miguel Cabrera. Giolito struck out nine over seven innings, but he and the Sox couldn’t overcome the homers.

“The ball flies a bit in warm weather and we have the crazy wind here but the homers today were, I’m facing big league hitters but I need to make better pitches in those situations,” Giolito said. “Three not well-executed pitches that led to three home runs in the loss.”

But Giolito’s outing, the Sox’ hitting against Skubal or even the flashy City Connect uniforms weren’t the main talking point.

“I felt good about sending (Moncada),” La Russa said. “Yaz had been tough all day long. I haven’t seen the pitch, so I don’t know. And I felt really good about bunting them over (in the sixth).”

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