As the White Sox rebuild has plowed forward, fans and observers have continued to ask whether Rick Renteria is the right man for the job, probably as much a reaction to the way he was replaced with Joe Maddon on the other side of town as to what he's done in his two-plus seasons as the manager on the South Side.
White Sox brass has replied at every opportunity that indeed Renteria is the right man for this team, moving toward contending while the development continues at all levels of the organization. He's received rousing support from Hawk Harrelson and Chris Sale, among others who aren't calling the shots in this whole process. But the ones who are calling the shots think the world of Renteria and rewarded him with an unannounced contract extension in spring of last year.
One night in May of a season in which the team isn't expected to contend for a playoff spot won't be anywhere close to the deciding evidence in the outside debate over whether Renteria should be the one helming the next championship-contending White Sox team - and, again, I'll repeat that the White Sox wholeheartedly believe he will be. But his calls did define a White Sox win Thursday night on the South Side, which included him showing what good the much-maligned bunt can do.
With the Toronto Blue Jays in town, runs weren't expected to come fast and furious. The Blue Jays are perhaps the American League's worst offensive team, and they entered Thursday's tilt, the first of four this weekend, with a team slash line of .219/.286/.360. Their performance Thursday was on brand, with Dylan Covey and a trio of relievers holding them to two runs and two hits.
But the White Sox mustered just two runs through the first seven innings, too, forced into a low-scoring tie. They had a golden chance to break that tie in the seventh inning, but after getting the first two runners on, the White Sox got nothing out of the deal. That due, in part, to Renteria being unable to challenge Jose Abreu's groundout to third that would've loaded the bases with one out. Abreu was called out, but he looked safe on the replay. Renteria couldn't challenge because he'd burned his challenge back in the fifth.
In the fifth, Welington Castillo was up with two outs and a runner on - the White Sox were ahead, 2-1, at that point - and he struck out on a foul tip. Castillo checked his swing, and rather than the ball hitting the bat for a foul tip, Renteria and the White Sox believed Castillo was hit by the pitch. Considering Castillo appeared to check his swing, that would've put two men on and continued the inning in a one-run game. It wasn't an outlandish challenge - despite the confusion those of us not in the White Sox dugout had in the moment - but the ball didn't hit Castillo, per the review. Inning over anyway.
It didn't seem like that big a deal until the seventh and Abreu's groundout in a tie game. Two batters after Abreu, Castillo struck out again, and the threat ended with no runs.
"When (the umpire) turned and signaled, we looked in. As we look at it, we have a way we grade our views, and for me -- they didn't call a check swing (strike)," Renteria said after the game. "He thought he had contact with the ball. And if we allow him to get on base, we keep the inning going with (Nicky) Delmonico at the plate.
"I know it's early in the ballgame. We've done it several times, in this instance we didn't get the call that we wanted. When we potentially had the bases loaded with (Abreu), it ended up putting me in a situation where I couldn't get that call overturned, and obviously that was a big point in the game, as well. ... Sometimes you get situations in which you're looking at plays to review, you have certain criteria. I took a chance on the criteria we had, and I tried it."
Renteria, though, made another call that did work in the White Sox favor. Again with an opportunity to break the tie in the eighth, runners at the corners and one out, Renteria sent in a variety of signals to batter Ryan Cordell. The last one of the at-bat was for a suicide squeeze, and Cordell and Yolmer Sanchez, sprinting in from third base, executed it perfectly. Sanchez scored the game-winning run, Cordell busted it safely down to first (which allowed an insurance run to score a batter later on Leury Garcia's sac fly) and Renteria's latest gamble paid off.
"It was exciting, it was awesome," Cordell said. "In the moment, just kind of locked in and focused on getting the job done. When I got to first base and looked in and see the dugout going nuts, that's a real exciting thing."
"The play itself, you have to expect to get a pitch that you can manage," Renteria said. "I wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to at least score that run. You've got to give Cordell a ton of credit because he's the one in the box in that situation, in the heat of the moment. It's not anything that I did. He's the one that executed the play, I just asked for him to do something and he executed."
Plenty of White Sox fans on social media (and modern-day baseball fans, in general) shudder when they hear about a bunt. With the focus on hitting the ball out of the ballpark these days, "bunt" has become a naughty word, and Renteria gets a lot of guff on Twitter for employing it when he does. But he's not going to stop, and it sure did work Thursday night.
"I don't need a whole lot to score that guy, just contact, put the ball in play," Renteria said. "It just afforded me the situation to do that. Cordy's shown that he can do that. A lot of our guys are now showing us they can do that.
"It's still been a process to get these guys to understand that's an important aspect that we need. It's starting to kind of come to fruition that they understand the importance of it, because they know we use it. When it is executed, that's a big play for us in that particular situation."
Thursday's result isn't likely to convert previously critical fans and observers into worshippers of the bunt. But Renteria showed what good it can do on a night that was defined by the calls he made from the third-base dugout.