Why La Russa, Sox refuse to panic after ugly Angels series originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Tony La Russa's managed a lot of baseball games.
So when he says stuff like this, it carries some weight.
"I can’t remember ever feeling better about a loss than this one," the South Side skipper said Sunday night. "I love the guts of this club, and we played courageously."
When those words traveled from La Russa's postgame press conference to social media, they were met with ... let's say skepticism.
The White Sox lost Sunday night, wrapping up the first series of the season in which they dropped three of four. Throughout the weekend, the defense made costly errors, the offense struggled to come up with timely hits and just one starting pitcher made it out of the fifth inning.
Thursday night, a wayward Nick Madrigal throw cost the White Sox a win. Saturday night, a ball bounced off Luis Robert's head. Sunday night, the White Sox did not have a hit with a man on base, 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and without an RBI in a game in which they were gifted four runs.
It's one thing to return to days of winning ugly. It's another thing, though, when there's not much winning to go along with the ugly.
So why was La Russa so glowing in his review of Sunday night's affair? The 7-4 defeat ended with the Los Angeles Angels celebrating a walk-off home run.
"We played, our guys," La Russa said. "Even in the end, the fact that they didn’t give in, didn’t give up, is to me a great sign of the toughness and the guts that this club has as we go forward."
Tony's boys don't quit, it seems.
La Russa specifically cited the erasure of the 3-0 lead the Angels built on the arm and bat of Shohei Ohtani. When Joe Maddon decided to leave Ohtani in long enough to qualify for the win, the White Sox jumped. Or rather, they scored three runs without the benefit of a hit, trading places with the Angels, who took advantage of sloppy South Side defense in the first three games of the series. José Abreu's slide into home plate at the end of a wacky dropped third strike sequence completed the comeback.
Managers love comebacks, and the White Sox got to make another in similar fashion. That 3-all tie didn't last long, Codi Heuer giving up a solo homer to Jared Walsh. Come the ninth, Nick Madrigal nearly got caught in a pickle but instead scampered home to tie the game when Raisel Iglesias threw the ball away. Again, no hits. That tie was short lived, too, though, Walsh tagging Matt Foster for the walk-off blast.
A late loss, in any fashion, will get the fan base riled up. And the White Sox had three of them in the first four days of the season. With a quartet of games the only sample size from which to draw, the frustration and conclusion-jumping was real on White Sox Twitter.
In the White Sox clubhouse, less so, which was also to be expected.
"Obviously, it's not how we wanted the first four to go," White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said. "But at the end of the day, we fought. ... We're not holding our heads down, by any means. There's a long season to go."
La Russa's assessment of his team's gutsiness could certainly be accurate. Cease's assessment of the fight in these White Sox could certainly be accurate. But baseball is a results-oriented business, as they say, and the results have been nasty.
The obvious truth is the White Sox haven't even played 2.5 percent of their regular season schedule, and any team playing 162 games is impossible to define using solely the data collected during the first four of those contests.
But the White Sox sure look like they could use Eloy Jiménez right now. They sure look like they could use Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert to play more like the Cactus League versions of themselves from a week ago. Yermín Mercedes isn't going to get five hits every night, after all.
Dallas Keuchel was not at all pleased with his paltry four-inning outing in his 2021 debut. Lance Lynn shared his opinion that it takes at least a month for starting pitchers to get into a groove. Cease settled down after giving up a million-mile homer to Ohtani in the first inning Sunday, but he wasn't exactly the 11-strikeout, zero-walk guy we saw in his final spring start.
And the supposedly vaunted White Sox bullpen has already coughed up three leads, pouring cold water on Aaron Bummer's dream of a 90-0 record with a lead after the sixth inning.
Add in the defensive struggles, and this hasn't been La Russa's return to the days of winning ugly. It's just been ugly.
The White Sox aren't panicking, nor should they be so early in the season. But while it might be easy to ignore the this-time-of-year overreactions flying around social media, it was impossible to ignore the way things played out in the first four games of the season.
"I don't think there's really any panic going on right now," Cease said. "At the end of the day, we need to play a little bit better. But we've got a lot of talent out there. We believe in ourselves. We've got to keep fighting."