Who could have predicted a cold-weather showdown between two losing teams working toward their sixth-straight year without a playoff appearances could have turned ugly?
With temperatures dropping into the 40s and a wall of wind protecting the fences, the shimmer of the Jeff Samardzija-Jose Quintana pitching matchup was soon sullied by how hard it was for the Cubs-Sox offenses to mount a compelling fight.
It took until the 12th inning, when Marcus Semien got out and around a Justin Grimm delivery and yanked it into the left field corner for a go-ahead two out single, for someone with a bat to meaningfully impact the game. After that, it went right back to being a game determined by incompetence. But given the Sox luck when Semien delivers go-ahead blows, Grimm plunking Paul Konerko then walking Alejandro De Aza to force in a run gave necessary breathing room to a 3-1 White Sox victory in the first game of the Crosstown Classic.
For the second-straight start, Sox hurler Jose Quintana blew through the initial innings like he was headed toward his best outing of of the new year. He was perfect through his first 4.2 innings, and not in a way that seemed accidental. He mixed a boreing cutter to right-handers with a tight backdoor slider, and looked primed for an 100-pitch complete game effort early. It did not come to pass.
Quintana's release point started ebbing away in the fifth. He started finishing on the rise on his fastball, and issued two walks before getting Darwin Barney to bounce out to end the threat, He led off the sixth by allowing Jeff Samardzija to club a leadoff double to left before scoring the tying run on a Junior Lake flyout.
Abandoning all else besides his fastball for the later portions, Quintana worked his way through seven innings, but wound up with as many walks as strikeouts (3). Innings and runs say Quintana had his most complete outing — he only allowed one hit — but there should be more command there. There are high standards for him now.
Cubs starter's Jeff Samardzija's corresponding dominance snuck up on everyone a bit, since he was trailing 1-0 before he got his hair wet. After a leadoff single by De Aza, third baseman Mike Olt compounded a poor choice to go to second by throwing...not to second. After scooting to third on the error, De Aza scored on a Jose Abreu sacrifice fly to right.
That sacrifice fly came on an 0-2 fastball thrown down the pipe, a choice that seemed odd at the time considering the struggles Abreu had been having with sliders away. And when Samardzija next worked an 0-2 count to Marcus Semien, the erratic 52-footers he threw showed he had no sort of feel for his breaking ball. It didn't matter, because he spent the night cranking 94-96 mph fastballs with tons of run right past Sox hitting.
Samardzija's seven strikeouts were just the beginning of 13 on the night for Whie Sox hitting, and they built up like a storm. Samardzija struck out the side in the sixth, and recorded five of his seven whiffs after the fifth. This resulted in vintage-Dusty Baker levels of confidence in him by Cubs manager Rick Renteria, who left Samardzija in for the ninth with no one warming, even after he cruised past 120 pitches, and walked Abreu and Adam Dunn back-to-back during his fourth time through the order. Dayan Viciedo, waving like the old days on a cold night, bailed the Shark out of his last inning of work by reaching to tap a 2-1 slider into a double play.
The Sox also mishandled two earlier opportunities with runners on third and the ball bouncing around home plate. With two out in the fourth and Dunn on second, he stayed rooted to the spot as a splitter bounced away from Welington Castillo, and was eventually stranded. The next inning, when the Sox had the speedier Marcus Semien on third with one out, they ran the contact play and had their lead runner gunned down on a dribbler to the pitcher.
While the hitting was falling back to the earth at atmosphere-breaching speeds, it was a banner night for the bullpen. Led by Ronald Belisario again, they added five shutout innings with only three hits and two walks. Matt Lindstrom picked up the save, and even on an emphatic strikeout of Luis Valbuena.
Team Record: 16-17
Next game is tomorrow at 7:05pm CT in Wrigley on CSN Chicago
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