ST. PETERSBURG — With a quick-striking offense and a fast-finishing bullpen, the White Sox closed out their road trip in style Sunday, holding off the Rays, 6-5, at Tropicana Field. It was a game of crazy momentum swings, and the Sox needed to hang on by their fingernails. But they were satisfied to win two out of three.
“You see what our record is [25-27], but we’ve got guts, we like to compete and we’re tough enough,’’ White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “We’ve got to execute better, no doubt about it, but the talent is there and the toughness is there.’’
The White Sox, who collected a season-high 16 hits, battered Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough for 10 baserunners and five doubles in their first 15 plate appearances while mounting a 6-0 advantage in the second inning.
The Rays chipped away and closed to 6-5 against White Sox ace Lucas Giolito with a four-run sixth inning, punctuated by Mike Zunino’s two-run homer. Giolito departed after the sixth, having thrown a season-high 109 pitches, but the White Sox bullpen made the lead stand.
Aaron Bummer surrendered a two-out single in the seventh to Yandy Díaz, but Díaz was picked off. Kendall Graveman struck out the side in the eighth, and Liam Hendriks retired the Rays 1-2-3 in the ninth for his 16th save.
“As a starter, when you get through six or seven innings, then you hand it off to the big dogs and let them do their jobs, it’s a good feeling,’’ Giolito said.
“That’s how the front office built our bullpen,’’ La Russa said. “We’ve got four guys who can pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth. You can mix and match. It’s a real asset.’’
After defeating the Rays, 3-2, on Saturday, coming from behind on Jake Burger’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning, the White Sox carried that offensive momentum into Sunday’s first two innings.
Burger slammed a two-run double, then Yasmani Grandal brought in two more with an excuse-me check swing over a drawn-in infield. The onslaught continued in the second. Josh Harrison led off with a double to the right-field corner, then wound up on third when right fielder Manuel Margot threw wildly to second. One batter later, Andrew Vaughn doubled in Harrison, then Luis Robert followed with an RBI single to make it 6-0.
It could have been more. Yarbrough was lifted with the bases loaded, and Shawn Armstrong struck out AJ Pollock for the inning’s final out.
Meanwhile, Giolito got through five innings without much damage, but it came apart in the sixth. The inning began innocently when Díaz slid into first base to eke out an infield single. Then Ji-Man Choi reached on a grounder when Grandal dropped Danny Mendick’s throw to first, setting up the Rays’ rally.
“Baseball is so momentum-based,’’ Giolito said. “What was good was I got through six innings, despite giving up a lot of hits and contact by getting out of some early situations. The downside was the sixth inning, letting it get out of hand, letting the momentum swing back to their side. In my last inning, I didn’t execute my pitches.’’
But the White Sox had the luxury of a six-run cushion. Six Chicago players had multiple hits, led by Vaughn and Robert, who each went 3-for-5.
“That was fun,’’ Burger said. “Anytime you can get off to a quick lead, it’s huge. We knew this weekend was a tough matchup. Taking two of three from Tampa Bay is a big thing.’’
Burger had plenty to do with that result.
“He’s just gaining confidence, and he’s a hungry hitter,’’ La Russa said. “He doesn’t give any at-bats away. I’ve been saying it all along. He’s going to be a big hitter for us.’’
The White Sox will head home for an off-day before beginning a six-game homestand Tuesday night against the Dodgers.
“We came in at minus-three, and now we’re at minus-two [below .500],’’ La Russa said. “Keep going and get to be a winning club. It’s a challenging homestand, but our pitchers are set up well for it. Let’s have at it.’’