What a difference a day makes.
After winning Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon, the White Sox were a victory away from taking their first playoff series in 15 years.
After losing Game 2 on Wednesday, the White Sox are a defeat away from making a quick postseason exit.
That's how little room for error there is in the best-of-three Wild Card Series. And now everything is riding on a winner-take-all Game 3.
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The White Sox had the guy they wanted on the hill Wednesday, Dallas Keuchel bringing a lengthy postseason resume and a sensational regular season into his first playoff start in a White Sox uniform. But he was hit unusually hard by a group of Oakland Athletics that had its back against the wall. Keuchel, who gave up just two homers in his 11 regular-season starts, gave up two homers in his brief, 3.1-inning outing in Game 2, that being enough for the A's to send the White Sox to a 5-3 loss.
As good as Lucas Giolito was in Game 1 for the White Sox, the A's got that kind of performance from their Game 2 starter. Chris Bassitt, who pitched for the White Sox in 2014 before being dealt away in the Jeff Samardzija trade, tossed seven one-run innings, allowing six singles to a White Sox lineup that hit three homers the day before. Another part of that trade, infielder Marcus Semien, hit one of those two home runs off Keuchel.
Mixed in with the unusual power display against Keuchel, the A's benefitted from some miscues by White Sox rookie second baseman Nick Madrigal. His fielding error on a ground ball in the first inning allowed the game's first two runs to score. After Semien's two-run homer in the second, Madrigal failed to recognize Tim Anderson's single to right field as he stole second base. That prevented him from reaching third base, and when Yoán Moncada flew out on an incredible catch by Mark Canha in left field, Madrigal was not in position to score. Madrigal made a throwing error later in the game.
The White Sox offense staged a late-game uprising once Bassitt was swapped for closer Liam Hendriks in the eighth inning. Yasmani Grandal hit his second home run in as many games, but Hendriks danced out of trouble, not without the help of a tough called third strike on Nomar Mazara.
Poor Nomar Mazara. He was at the plate as the tying run in the regular-season finale on Sunday and was called out strikes then, too. pic.twitter.com/cNTKU9qUL9— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) September 30, 2020
The White Sox staged a dramatic rally against Hendriks in the ninth. After Madrigal and Anderson knocked out back-to-back two-out singles, Moncada walked to load the bases. A's manager Bob Melvin finally replaced his over-worked closer, but Grandal drew a bases-loaded walk to make it a two-run game and bring AL MVP candidate José Abreu to the plate. But Abreu grounded out to end the threat and the game.
And so it all comes down to Game 3 on Thursday afternoon.
The White Sox still hadn't announced their Game 3 starting pitcher by the time Game 2 ended, though Rick Renteria might have tipped his hand a bit when he brought Dylan Cease on in relief late Wednesday. Cease was one of three candidates to earn that nod on the final weekend of the regular season. But neither Cease, Dane Dunning nor Reynaldo López performed well against the Crosstown-rival Cubs. López was left off the roster for the Wild Card Series, seemingly leaving Dunning as the logical option to start Game 3.
With a stellar bullpen, the White Sox have the arms to treat Thursday as a bullpen day if they wanted to. Even if Dunning gets the start, it might end up one anyway, with the White Sox perhaps not expecting him to throw more than a few innings.
But what is definitely true is that the White Sox will not have access to their two elite starting pitchers at the top of their rotation with the season on the line. The good news? They might get to face a left-handed starter. Sean Manaea, a southpaw, could be the best option for the A's. The White Sox went 14-0 against lefty starters during the regular season and beat lefty Jesús Luzardo in Game 1.
The White Sox wanted these high-pressure postseason moments. They've got one now. It's win or go home Thursday.