White Sox' bullpen takes accountability for late-inning collapse

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White Sox' bullpen owns late-inning loss to Guardians originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It should have been a night to revel in Michael Kopech’s six-inning, seven-strikeout gem.

Or the bats coming alive, led by the slumping Gavin Sheets and A.J. Pollock, who each belted three-run home runs en route to eight runs through eight innings.

Instead, the Chicago White Sox leave Monday’s 12-9 extra-inning loss to the Guardians wondering where it all went wrong.

"Brutal," is how manager Tony La Russa described the defeat. "Had a chance to put it away. That's just a brutal loss, to give up six runs like that and a couple chances to win offensively. It's a tough loss. It's as tough as you're going to have."

The six Cleveland runs to which La Russa refers came in the top of the ninth inning, which the White Sox entered leading 8-2. Tanner Banks got the first chance to tie a bow on what should have been a one-sided win, but allowed a leadoff home run to Cleveland shortstop Andrés Giménez, followed by an Amed Rosario single, which the Guardians left fielder stretched to three bases after a Tim Anderson error. Rosario scored moments later on an error by third baseman Yoán Moncada — the White Sox' fourth of the game and 26th of the season, tying the Pirates for most in MLB — to draw within 8-4.

But the damage didn't stop there. After a strikeout and fielder's choice left the Guardians down to their final out, and with just a runner on first, Banks walked José Ramírez, bringing the tying run to the on-deck circle.

So La Russa turned to Liam Hendriks, who had been nails throughout the club's six-game win streak, saving five games, striking out eight batters and allowing zero runs or hits across five innings. The White Sox' closer worked ahead 0-2 on Owen Miller, but eventually surrendered a single to left-center, loading the bases for Josh Naylor.

On the first pitch of that at-bat, Naylor lashed a 99 mile-per-hour fastball over the right-field wall. Grand slam. Tie game.

"Possibly. But I'll never use it as an excuse," Hendriks said when asked if the fact that he multiple times warmed up then sat down in the bullpen between the eighth and ninth affected his performance. "That's not an excuse to not get it done. At the end of the day you're coming in there with a job to do and I didn't do my job tonight."

Hendriks retired the next batter, and the White Sox loaded the bases by way of three walks in the bottom half of the ninth, but failed to convert. Reynaldo López allowed one run to score on a Giménez double in the 10th inning, which the White Sox matched with a Reese McGuire RBI groundout. They then loaded the bases again — with one out — and again failed to bring home the winning run.

López trotted out for the 11th inning, but after warming up, exited the game with low back tightness. Ryan Burr, his successor, proved another victim for Naylor, who jolted a three-run home run to right to put Cleveland ahead 12-9. It clinched the first multi-home run game of Naylor's career, and represented his sixth, seventh and eighth RBI of the night.

"It sucks. I don't know what else to say. Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug," Burr said. "Unfortunately, I was the bug today. I got squashed."

La Russa noted that he considered intentionally walking Naylor. Burr said he wanted to face him.

"I want to go after everybody. I don't care who it is," Burr said. "I made a pitch, he hit the ball, that's the game of baseball for you, you know? Went over the fence. We lost the game. But (it's a) 162 (game season). Get right back on the horse tomorrow."

By game's end, just four of the Guardian's 12 runs were designated as earned. Still, the bullpen — primarily, Hendriks and Burr — took responsibility for the defeat.

The worst part for Hendriks was knowing he forced López and Burr into extra innings of work on a night he could have slammed the door. The White Sox' bullpen was already overtaxed before embarking on a stretch of 19 games in 18 days.

"What stings even more is that guys had to go out there. Obviously you can look at what our bullpen's been doing, we've had a lot of innings, a lot of guys in there, and today I made it even worse," Hendriks said. "I've struggled with runners on this year, especially other people's, which is one of my pet peeves. I need to get better at that. I don't know if it's a mindset thing or what it is but it needs to get better and it needs to get better quickly.

"Right now it just stings obviously because Burr should never be in that situation, López should never be in that situation. It should have been something that I took care of. I mean I was one strike away and I wasn't able to get it done."

The bullpen has been responsible for plenty of victories early in the season. It's that track record and the talent on staff — which, in a sidebar, got one inning of scoreless work from Joe Kelly in his White Sox debut — that gives them confidence in bouncing back.

"We know that we're a resilient group. There's no guys out there that we don't have faith in being able to get it done in any situation, and that's something we pride ourselves on out there," Hendriks said. "We can't dwell on what happened the night before or the last outing or anything like that. We look ahead and we move forward and now we've gotta plan out that attack."

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