A large sense of anticipation swelled Sunday as the White Sox were 120 feet away from overtaking the Twins to complete a three-game sweep and moving closer to the top of the American League Central.
But those hopes deflated rapidly when Leury Garcia bunted into a fielder’s choice that prevented the tying run from scoring, and Romy Gonzalez struck out with the go-ahead run at second base to end the seventh inning.
That realistically ended the Sox’s chances of extending their winning streak to five games, as they fell to the dreaded but familiar .500 mark following a 5-1 loss.
Jose Miranda’s two-run double in the ninth sent several of the 32,305 fans to the exits, but there was noticeable resignation throughout the stands after three consecutive hits failed to generate more than a lone run.
As a result, the Sox (67-67) must regain their long-awaited momentum during a seven-game trip to AL playoff contender Seattle and Oakland with 28 games left.
They’re expected to regain the full services of center fielder Luis Robert, whom acting manager Miguel Cairo wanted to stay away from because Robert didn’t feel completely ready due to a sore left hand that has prevented him from batting in a game since Aug. 25.
Without Robert, Cairo felt comfortable with Garcia facing flame-throwing Jhoan Duran. Garcia swung and missed on a 99.8 mph fastball before bunting a 99.5 mph pitch to the mound, where Duran fielded and threw home to pinch-runner Adam Haseley.
Gonzalez who hit a three-run homer Saturday, fouled off a 101.9 mph 0-2 pitch before striking out on a 89 mph curve.
“Sometimes you got to go for it,” Cairo said of the safety squeeze bunt attempt. “It was a good chance to do it. (Garcia) did the job. It was just a little to the middle, but he did his job.”
Cairo said he let Garcia know in advance of his intentions
“And I felt comfortable with Leury in there in that situation,” Cairo said. “He’s a fastball hitter, and I know he could bunt or put the ball in play. I was good with that.”
Cairo seemed just as confident about the Sox’s forecast, based on their recent play.
“We play the way we played this week, watch out,” Cairo said. “We’re going to have a pretty good chance, and the guys are excited about going out there.”
The Sox’s traveling party wore NFL jersey as part of their football-theme trip, and pitcher Lucas Giolito believes Thursday’s players-only meeting fostered a much-needed bond and sense of urgency.
“Coming together and playing hard, playing focused baseball – when we do that, it brings up the energy,” said Giolito, who allowed a two-run home run to Carlos Correa that snapped a scoreless tie in fifth.
“It brings up the confidence in all situations, whether we’re down, up, doesn’t matter, tied. Giving it our best effort for nine innings every single day, that’s what I’ve been seeing, that’s what we’ve been feeling. If we stay on that track, we’ll be in a good spot. Just keep winning. Try and win.”
Before the game, Cairo said he continues to talk daily with manager Tony La Russa, who is in Arizona undergoing tests with his doctors.
“He’s doing good,” Cairo said. “Hopefully we get to see him soon. We’re going to wait and see.”