BALTIMORE, Md. — Right-hander Lance Lynn pitched as rookie on manager Tony La Russa’s Cardinals team that won the World Series in 2011.
La Russa was 66 at the time. At 77, he’s still the same as he ever was, Lynn said.
“He’s never changed over the years,” Lynn told the Sun-Times this week. “He’s still as sharp as can be. He’s a Hall of Fame manager who has done a lot of things in this game that no one else has. He’s always going to have the fire to manage and compete. That’s just who he is.”
In his first year back from retirement after being hired by close friend and former employer Jerry Reinsdorf, La Russa guided the 2021 Sox to 93 wins and a division title. But the Sox were outclassed by the Astros in the ALDS and are 103-99 since the All-Star break last season, including a 1-3 record against the Astros in October. They are 63-62 this season and four games behind the surprising Cleveland Guardians after a stunning 4-3 loss against the Orioles in 11 innings Thursday night.
With closer Liam Hendriks protecting a one-run lead in the ninth, left fielder Adam Engel, a defensive replacement, dropped Kyle Stowers foul ball near the side wall that would have ended the game. Stowers then hit an 0-2 pitch for a tying homer.
The Orioles walked it off in the bottom of the 11th against Jake Diekman on Anthony Santander’s deep single scoring free runner Austin Hays to take the rubber game of the series.
Good luck trying to pin the team’s 2022 under-performance on La Russa, who was hired to make the Sox out-perform all comers and win a World Series in their current contention window. But La Russa has been criticized for lineup constructions, in-game decisions that include walking two batters intentionally with 1-2 counts and overseeing a team that often seems to lack urgency, gets out-hustled by opponents, ranks at the bottom of the majors in defense and looks fundamentally challenged at times.
The Sox have also been clobbered by injuries, and they saw third baseman Yoan Moncada exit Thursday’s game in the fifth with a tight hamstring. Moncada came up sore after he made an exceptional play charging Terrin Vavra’s bunt in the second.
Lynn, 35, has been around long enough to know players win and lose games, and he isn’t going to pin the Sox’ performance on La Russa.
“We’re not doing our job as players,” Lynn said.
Signed last July to a two-year, $38 million extension with a team option for 2024 after he led the AL in ERA in the first half in 2021, Lynn would include himself among them, but he did his job Thursday, pitching six strong innings of two-run ball (one run earned) Thursday but owns a 5.00 ERA and 3-5 record after starting the season in June due to knee surgery in April.
After Andrew Vaughn homered leading off the game against Jordan Lyles, Lynn gave up the lead when first baseman Jose Abreu misplayed Adley Rutschman’s ground ball for an error and Anthony Santander homered.
But Lynn allowed two hits and one walk after that while striking out eight.
The Sox, who out-hit the Orioles 11-6, tied it in the seventh when Vavra, the Orioles second baseman, made an errant throw to first trying to complete a double play on Josh Harrison’s ground ball and allowing Romy Gonzalez to score from third.
Abreu singled with two outs with in the eighth to score Sheets from third. Sheets had doubled for his third hit and eighth of the series and advanced to third on Luis Robert’s ground out.
Reynaldo Lopez pitched a perfect seventh, and Jimmy Lambert a perfect eighth.
Count Lynn in on the side of those who believe the Sox have what it takes to reach a third consecutive postseason.
“Yeah,” he said. “Just have to win games.”