CHICAGO — There were thankfully no hits involved when benches and bullpens emptied during the top of the second inning in Baltimore’s 4-1 victory over the White Sox Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
That disruption came after White Sox starter Michael Kopech hit Baltimore shortstop Jorge Mateo on the back with a 99 mph fastball on a 1-2 count. Unfortunately for the White Sox offense, it had exactly one more hit than zero against Austin Voth and four Baltimore relievers in the team’s third straight loss after getting to .500.
Cleveland and Minnesota lost their respective games, keeping the White Sox at 4 1/2 games behind both in the American League Central. But having Jake Burger’s run-scoring double in the second hold up as the squad’s total offense, with the final 19 White Sox being retired in order, is not workable for a team with playoff aspirations, let alone championship hopes.
“You are not really sure what the answer is,” Burger said. “There was something missing obviously. We’ve had our fair share of injuries, not to make excuses. The talent is in this room. Something is missing and we’ll figure it out.”
“After the fifth inning on, we didn’t get a baserunner, did we?” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa, whose last baserunner was Andrew Vaughn’s two-out walk in the third. “We’re better than that. We have to figure out why that’s true. I’ve got some ideas, but they’re not for me to share. It’s not acceptable.”
La Russa understood the fans’ anger over his 33-36 squad scoring one run in total against a vastly improved squad from Baltimore (33-39) which is still far from a juggernaut. As the man in charge, he took the blame.
“Less entertaining for fans to see the guys go 1-2-3 and out. It always looks bad,” said La Russa when asked about his team’s energy. “We hit some balls hard.
“But in this league, you either do or you don’t, and when you don’t, whether you’re players or the manager, you just take the heat. Fans didn’t come out to watch us get beat that easily. I take the heat for not getting us ready to play. I don’t know what else to say.”
Kopech (2-4) produced a quality start even with what he termed as less than his best stuff or a feel for it. He struck out two and walked four over six-plus innings, allowing three runs.
It was his encounter with Mateo, though, drawing just as much attention as his gritty mound performance raising his ERA to 2.59 overall. Mateo had attempted to bunt on Kopech to open the two-out at-bat, just as Cedric Mullins did successfully on the first pitch of the game.
Mullins’ bunting annoyed Kopech because of the difficulty he has had getting off the mound while recovering from right knee discomfort stemming from a 13-pitch, three-batter effort in a home start on June 12 against the Rangers. But he was more frustrated by giving up a hit on the first pitch.
“Just part of the game,” Kopech said.
White Sox second baseman Josh Harrison was hit by a Dean Kremer pitch in the right triceps area in the the fifth inning of a 4-0 loss Thursday and stayed in the game before being replaced in the field by Lenyn Sosa in the top of the sixth . X-rays were negative on Harrison, who was working to get the swelling out of the area and get range of motion, jokingly referring to said swelling on Friday by saying his triceps had a biceps on it.
That hit by pitch wasn’t intentional. The same holds true for Kopech’s pitch to Mateo.
“They took offense to it, I guess, but I’m trying to rear back and do a little bit more,” Kopech said. “Fly open, the ball got away from me. Definitely not trying to hit a guy with two strikes and two outs. Especially a guy who’s not doing too much at the plate. Situation kind of escalated, but then it settled back in.”
“I don’t know what happened there,” Mateo said. “I really don’t think it was intentional.”
After the hit-by-pitch, Mateo slowly walked toward first base with a few steps in the direction of the mound. Kopech added a few Orioles hopped on the dugout rail and started talking and that’s when it escalated.
Both teams received a warning as players returned to their respective dugouts. Mateo swiped second and scored on Richie Martin’s single to right after being hit by Kopech, giving Baltimore a 2-0 advantage. They didn’t need anything more.
“This was a rough night on both sides of the ball, but we’re fighting hard every night,” Kopech said. “When things don’t go our way, we don’t hold on to that too much. We know who we are individually. We know who we are as a team. It’s going to come around.”