CHICAGO — Dusty Baker and Ozzie Guillen, two old friends who know well each other and the rigors of postseason battles, embraced by the batting cage before Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday. Baker, the Astros manager, is the only manager to take five teams to the postseason, but never won the last game the way Guillen did with the 2005 White Sox. Guillen, who last ran a game in 2012, works out of the line of fire in the less stressful role of studio analyst. The two of them enjoyed a laugh or three, until the typically salty-sounding Guillen turned serious.
“You know what I told him?” Guillen says. “The last thing I said to him was, ‘Don’t let those [expletives] win a game. Don’t.”
The Astros let the White Sox win a game. Up 4-1 with a chance to eliminate Chicago, Houston got blown out, 12-6. Time will reveal Guillen’s touch as a prophet. But let there be no doubt for now: the White Sox just became a dangerous team. The Astros still lead the series, two games to one. But the White Sox seized control.
“We’re a young team,” Chicago closer Liam Hendriks says, “so coming back in an elimination game is big.”
It was a long, weird evening of baseball under blackout conditions. (Fans at Guaranteed Rate Field donned all black.) Things went bump in the night, most weirdly a throw off the left shoulder of Chicago’s Yasmani Grandal that he swore was unintentionally misdirected. Among the oddities:
- The Astros, the team that struck out the fewest times this season, struck out 16 times, the most for them all year.
- Leury García, he of the 31 career homers over nine seasons, hit the longest and biggest homer of his life, a 438-foot, three-run blast in the third to cap a three-Garcia at-bat: Leury homered off Yimi after Luis threw the first two pitches.
- This was the first postseason game ever in which nobody pitched three innings—not even with 12 pitchers taking the mound.
- Five White Sox pitchers retired the last 16 batters with just three balls leaving the infield.
- Twenty-nine of the 51 outs were strikeouts, including eight looking on the emphatic calls of umpire Tom Hallion—half of which MLB.com showed as balls out of the strike zone.
- The White Sox scored three runs in the fourth on eight groundballs. The key play was the polite bump from Grandal after he hit a grounder to Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel with runners at first and third. Gurriel threw home, where he assuredly had Luis Robert out trying to score from third. But Gurriel’s throw glanced off Grandal’s shoulder, deflecting it away from a protesting catcher Martin Maldonado. Robert dove so hard into home that he wiped out Hallion.
(The play was properly ruled legal by the umpires. The fielder’s responsibility with such a throw is to avoid the runner. The runner can run anywhere before the runner’s lane 45 feet from the plate. His baseline is only established on a tag attempt. The only decision by the umpiring crew was whether Grandal intentionally interfered with the throw, which is not allowed. No such intent was obvious.)
- Grandal began the comeback with an opposite field, two-run homer in the third off a 3-2 changeup from Luis Garcia. It was the first extra-base hit for Chicago in the series after it had gone two straight games without an extra-base hit for the first time in 300 games. The last time the Sox had gone a second straight postseason game without an extra-base hit, they weren’t really trying: Game 1 of the 1919 World Series, infamous for the Black Sox scandal.
Maybe this game was so weird that it stands on its own, an October anomaly rather than one in a series. But that would underestimate all the goodwill the Sox gathered. Tim Anderson is smashing singles where the Houston defense isn’t. Jose Abreu, who began the series at DH while battling the flu, is healthy and in his usual RBI machine form. Ryan Tepera’s slider and Aaron Bummer’s sinker are on point. And the Guaranteed Rate Field crowd came up big with their first chance to roar in the postseason since 2008.
Maybe Guillen was on to something—not that Baker needed to be convinced of the danger of letting the White Sox back in the series. This was the 21st potential clincher of a game Baker has managed. He has lost 16 of them, a .238 winning percentage when the champagne is on ice. He will try again in Game 4, and if need be, in Game 5 again.
Hendriks says he already knows how it will play out. This is what happens when you let a team off the brink. It is not just revived, but stronger yet from having survived the scare. Just how strong was evident when Hendriks decided to close his postgame interview as emphatically as he did the game. He looked right into the camera and shouted, “Sox in five! Sox in five!”