CHICAGO — The Rays’ 9-3 victory over the White Sox on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field had the look and feel of sheer Tampa Bay dominance.
And yes, the Rays were in control from the start to avoid the three-game sweep in Chicago. There were a few moments in the first five innings, though, that affected the outcome. Here’s a look at those:
Velasquez’s first inning
This series finale started well enough for White Sox starter Vince Velasquez, who struck out Brandon Lowe on three pitches. The rest of the inning didn’t play out nearly as well, with the Rays scoring four times. For the right-hander, the outburst was a combination of bad luck and poor execution.
Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena singled, followed by consecutive walks to Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz, forcing home a run. Josh Lowe grounded the next pitch to the right of the mound. Velasquez quickly gloved the ball, but he fumbled it and was unable to get any out as the Rays increased their lead to 2-0.
“It was off to the side. He tried to be quick with it,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “He didn’t really have his footing. He’s probably the best athlete on the team. He was kind of moving away and tried to adjust his feet. That’s the way the inning went for him and for us.”
“I can pop off the mound. I like jumping off, I like communicating with my infield to see where they’re at, knowing that I can reach those balls,” Velasquez said. “But [it] kinda hit me in the palm a little bit. Didn’t have a full grip on it. What really kills me is knowing I have six walks in my last two starts. That’s not a good sign.”
Manuel Margot singled to right to score a third run, and Kevin Keirmaier’s bases-loaded walk completed the rally.
Velasquez deserved credit for then shutting down the Rays into the fifth inning after needing 35 pitches to escape the first, although he allowed just two exit velocities of more than 80 mph in that frame, per Statcast.
“Not so much mechanics, I think it’s just more so execution,” Velasquez said. “I’m only doing it to myself, knowing I’m digging a hole.”
Stealing a homer
Tim Anderson tried to cut into the Rays’ lead on the third pitch from opener J.P. Feyereisen, launching a drive to left with a 104.3 mph exit velocity and a .930 xBA, per Statcast. But Josh Lowe went over the wall to pull back Anderson’s home run bid, immediately knocking down any momentum change.
“That catch was impressive,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I thought that was a no-doubt homer. It’s a good thing it was cold and the wind was blowing the other way. But Josh being 6-4 whatever, he got up there pretty good.”
Expanding the zone
Although the White Sox finished with three hits, they had chances to take control. They loaded the bases in the fourth inning on José Abreu’s single and walks to Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jiménez before Gavin Sheets, who homered in the ninth, was hit by an 0-1 pitch from Chris Mazza to force home a run.
Josh Harrison then battled through a nine-pitch at-bat, but he swung and missed on a 3-2 slider out of the zone that would have been ball four. On a day when the game-time temperature was 41 degrees, it was a tough challenge to stay aggressive while also being patient when a pitcher was struggling.
“When I went in there, he had thrown eight balls in a row,” Sheets said. “I’m taking first pitch, which is tough because then you’ve got 0-1.
“Obviously he lost the zone a little bit, but you never want to get in a hole against guys like that. It’s a tough situation. You’ve got to stay aggressive but get him in the zone.”
A passed ball charged to Rays catcher Francisco Mejía allowed Adam Engel to score in the fifth and cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2 with Anderson on third, Abreu on second and two outs. Reliever Jalen Beeks uncorked a wild pitch, but Mejía’s throw to Beeks covering barely caught Anderson, who made an aggressive move to the plate. It was one of those days for the White Sox, who still finished with a third straight series win to open 2022.
“We won two games, but we had three hits [Sunday],” La Russa said. “Even when they pitched well, we can do better. We didn’t have a great day offensively or a good day offensively. But it’s easier to pitch in games like this than it is to hit.”