Yankees triple play spoils White Sox rally in playoff-esque game

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Yankees triple play spoils Sox rally in playoff-esque game originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Tim Anderson always says, "These are the moments you want to be in."

Indeed, as the 2021 season moves along, the Chicago White Sox are getting more and more tastes of the kind of baseball the rebuild was building toward.

After successfully mowing through a long stretch of games against division rivals from Minnesota and Kansas City, the White Sox made it to The Bronx, where annually all roads to the American League pennant travel through. The New York Yankees always provide a playoff-quality roster to go up against, and now the rebuilt White Sox can test their mettle against another contending group of Bronx Bombers — not to mention baseball's premier franchise.

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The result wasn't a victory Friday night in the opener of a three-game weekend set. But the White Sox did prove themselves playoff-caliber in an at times thrilling duel against the Yankees that could very well be an October preview.

Carlos Rodón was again sensational, setting a new career high with 13 strikeouts across six scoreless innings. But after being stymied themselves against Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery for most of the evening, the White Sox offense finally seemed ready to come up with some clutch RBIs in a 1-all tie in the ninth inning.

And that's when Andrew Vaughn hit into a triple play.

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Yes, it was a "you've got to be bleeping me" moment for the White Sox, who ended up 2-1 losers not long after, when the Yankees put together three straight hits in the bottom half of the inning to walk it off against Evan Marshall.

But for a team that has set championship-level goals since the first day of spring training — far earlier, actually, if you dial it all the way back to the hiring of Tony La Russa last fall — this was the type of moment, the type of game, the type of atmosphere they wanted to be in.

"This was a heck of a game," Rodón said. "That team over there is very good, as are we. A triple play like that, you don't see that very often, especially in that situation, a 1-1 game in the ninth. I was sitting in the dugout, you definitely don't want that to happen, thinking we're going to put up a run there.

"Two very good teams in the AL, two playoff contenders. And you got the feel of it tonight with the game that was played in that atmosphere."

Rodón shoved, something he's done often this season as he's gone from non-tendered to no-hitter and is now building a dark-horse candidacy for the Cy Young Award from the fifth spot in a suddenly loaded White Sox rotation. If the White Sox are going to end up the winners of these kinds of games come October, they'll need exactly what they got in May: a starting-pitching performance to rival any arm in the game.

The White Sox will see one of those accomplished playoff pitchers Saturday when Gerrit Cole takes the ball for the Yankees. The kind of duel Rodón was in Friday night is the same that awaits him and his White Sox teammates come October, the kind Cole was in time and time again as a Houston Astro in 2019.

With Rodón and the rest of the White Sox rotation running hot through the first two months of the campaign, it's not a stretch to imagine them not just hanging tough but going toe to toe with anyone a playoff series might throw at them.

"This rotation's pretty special," Rodón said. "Five aces. And any given night, anyone can go out there and do the same thing."

The White Sox offense was on the receiving end of the same kind of punishment Rodón threw the Yankees' way Friday, getting it from Montgomery. But it was the team's defense that managed to come up big.

Before the Yankees cemented their place in the highlights with their clutch three-out web gem, it was José Abreu and Tim Anderson each cutting down a runner with throws home on ground balls, saving runs in a low-scoring tilt and helping their pitchers perform wild escape acts. That's the kind of defensive effort that keeps a team in contention all summer and wins playoff games and playoff series come October.

It wasn't all pretty, of course, with Nick Madrigal committing two errors on the same third-inning play, setting up the jam that Abreu's throw helped get the White Sox out of. But from early season ugliness to game-saving moments like the ones on Friday, the defense is finally starting to look like La Russa pitched it would.

After all, you can't have a best-in-baseball run differential on offense alone.

"The first part of the season, we had some shaky moments that were atypical of our club," La Russa said before Friday's game. "But consistently now, we’re making plays in the infield, our catching has been smart.

"We have coaches who are smart and know how to work them, and we have players who know how to do things that win games. I feel like, defensively, we will be a winning club making plays, just like I feel about the pitching and hitting."

You can even throw some good base running from Adam Eaton in there that led to the White Sox lone run.

But more than it all, it was that defining moment in the ninth, one of baseball's most spectacular plays, that served as a fittingly entertaining conclusion to a contest that was well played throughout. A competition between two contenders should end in dramatic fashion, and with Yankee Stadium as the backdrop, it was an atmosphere befitting of teams with championship aspirations.

It's the expectation every year for the Yankees. And now that the White Sox have ascended out of rebuilding mode, it's become the expectation for them, too.

"We all know what we can do, and our confidence is up," Anderson said before the game. "We've been playing pretty good, and we've been being great teammates and picking one another up. So we've just got to continue to keep pushing and try to be the last one standing, and we've got a chance to do that."

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