ST. PETERSBURG — It was just one swing. But it helped end a losing streak. And it might have provided a spark to jump-start the White Sox season.
Jake Burger’s two-run, pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning lifted the White Sox past the Rays 3-2 on Saturday at Tropicana Field, ending a four-game skid and providing postgame life in the clubhouse.
“I was sprinting out of the box,’’ said Burger, who had been 0-for-4 as a pinch-hitter in the Major Leagues. “Everybody was like, ‘Dude, you didn’t know you got that?’ I was like, ‘Maybe. But if it’s a double in the gap, I had to get going.’
“I was kind of floating around the bases. I was smiling the whole time. I will always remember that one.’’
Burger’s shot on a 1-0 changeup from Rays left-hander Jalen Beeks set up the White Sox bullpen to close it out. Kendall Graveman loaded the bases in the eighth on two singles and a walk but was rescued when shortstop Danny Mendick threw out Isaac Paredes by a step. In the ninth, closer Liam Hendriks got Tampa Bay 1-2-3 with two strikeouts.
“We had to survive the eighth inning,’’ White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “I’m convinced Graveman is just messing with me, just to age me. It was exactly the same game we’ve played the whole road trip, but we won this one.
“I told Burger he was never going to start again, just be a pinch-hitter. He’s got a flair, doesn’t he? When he hits them, they’re big, important ones. This one was big.’’
Burger’s foremost memory of being a pinch-hitter occurred last season when he faced the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes with the bases loaded. He struck out on three pitches. That was his last Major League at-bat in 2021, and he returned to Triple-A Charlotte.
“He has a lot of talent,’’ La Russa said. “He has a solid stroke and should be a productive Major League hitter. He’s a good third baseman, too. He’s going to have a good career.’’
Trailing 2-0 after being frustrated by Rays starter Drew Rasmussen, who allowed three hits over seven innings, the White Sox offense was ignited after his exit. Facing Brooks Raley, pinch-hitter Adam Engel blooped an eighth-inning leadoff double to left, which just eluded the glove of backtracking shortstop Vidal Bruján. After a strikeout, Mendick flared an RBI single to right. Burger was called upon, and the Rays countered with Beeks.
“I was watching [television] in the clubhouse when Burger hit it out,’’ said White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease. “I thought, ‘Clutch! Thank God.’ I hope it gets us going. We’ve got good momentum. Now we’ve got to do it again.’’
Cease called his start “one of those anomaly games.’’ He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, allowing a pair of unearned runs in the fifth. Yandy Díaz’s grounder to first baseman José Abreu should have ended the inning, but it bounced awkwardly off Abreu’s glove for an error to let in the first run before Ji-Man Choi followed with an RBI single to left against the shift.
Cease allowed just one hit, a second-inning single by Randy Arozarena, but he tied a career high with seven walks. Overall, Cease threw 101 pitches, just 54 for strikes. La Russa said Cease was “fighting it all night.’’
“It was pretty ugly, but it was good enough,’’ Cease said. “I just had to compete and not give in. Looking back, I wish I would’ve tried different things and made some adjustments. But you’re in the moment while competing. I was just trying to put us in a position to win.’’
Burger took care of the rest.