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The bullpen figures to be a strength for the Chicago White Sox.
But for the third time this young season, the Sox couldn’t hold a late lead.
Closer Liam Hendriks surrendered a game-tying home run to Carlos Santana to begin the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals scored once in the 10th off Garrett Crochet to beat the Sox 4-3 in front of 7,695 fans Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Sox (4-5) had trouble closing out two games against the Los Angeles Angels that they led through seven innings during their seven-game trip to start the season. They also saw a three-run lead evaporate in the sixth inning of a loss to the Seattle Mariners in the trip finale.
“I don’t want to disagree, but if you go back to opening day, the ground ball off (pitcher Aaron Bummer’s) glove — where was the struggle?” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “Look at some of the heroics on that road trip. Even today, (Michael) Kopech’s a member of the bullpen, isn’t he? Look what (Codi) Heuer did (a scoreless two-thirds of an inning).
“Just because the guy for the other side hit a fastball out of the park, that’s all they got off of Hendriks. I think it is a strength of our club. You can take an incident here or there where they haven’t been perfect, but we had a couple chances with a runner on third and we didn’t get a run. The team gets beat. The bullpen is outstanding, a real strength.”
Sox starter Dylan Cease agreed.
“Those guys are nasty,” Cease said. “Baseball’s one of those games where things end up evening out, so we have full faith in the bullpen for sure.”
Cease allowed one run on four hits with six strikeouts and three walks in 4⅔ innings.
Kopech followed and continued his smooth temporary transition from starter to reliever, retiring all seven batters he faced. He struck out three in 2⅓ innings.
Kopech has been a standout in the bullpen, not allowed a run and striking out 11 in 6⅓ innings.
“I don’t know if I would say it’s easier or smoother,” he said. “You still have the same job when you get out there regardless. But it’s been easier for me to kind of tap into the mindset (that) I need to be competing as soon as I step on that mound.
“I’m just rolling with that and enjoying that.”
The Royals scored once in the eighth off Bummer to take a 2-1 lead. Adam Eaton gave the Sox a one-run lead with a pinch-hit, two-run home run to right in the bottom of the inning.
Santana spoiled Hendriks’ first home outing with the Sox, hitting a 1-1 fastball over the center-field wall to tie the game.
The 10th began with Michael A. Taylor on second for the Royals. Nicky Lopez moved him to third on a bunt and the Sox intentionally walked Whit Merrifield, putting runners on the corners for Andrew Benintendi.
He bunted the ball back to Crochet, whose throw to the plate was off the mark. Taylor scored the go-ahead run on the error.
“The bunt hopped up on him,” La Russa said. “If it had stayed down, you practice underhanding it, but it came up, so he had to go over the top. So it was a tough play for him. But he got out of it. That was just one run and he did a great job to stop it right there.”
The Sox couldn’t cash in with their runner on second in the bottom of the inning as the Royals earned a split of the rain-shortened two-game series.
Kopech is certain the relievers’ confidence remains high.
“I don’t think you can shake confidence out of the guys we have here,” he said. “We are going to try to stay humble and stay grounded as much as we can, but we have a massive amount of talent so there’s a massive amount of confidence in this clubhouse.”