CHICAGO — Ozzie Guillen curled up in the fetal position on his TV couch Wednesday after the Chicago White Sox lost on a walk-off home run for the second straight night in Cleveland.
“Tough loss tonight!” the former Sox manager and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst said in a tweet that included a photo of him lying on the couch.
After the Sox lost again Thursday and blew a 4-1, seventh-inning lead to get swept out of town, Guillen was on his feet but livid over the loss, while manager Rick Renteria was forced to defend his decision to use rehabbed starter Carlos Rodon in a high-leverage relief situation in a crucial game.
“We talk about situations that are going to present themselves as we move forward into the postseason,” Renteria said. “Do I want to find out then or do I want to find out now?”
Guillen was not impressed.
“This is not the Instructional League,” Guillen said. “This is a pennant race.”
Renteria may feel as if the world is against him as the Sox prepare to take on the Cubs Friday in the most important City Series since interleague play began 23 years ago.
And he may be right.
“Everybody wants to put it on me?” he asked afterwards. “Put it on me.”
Sox fans did just that, making “Rodon” trend on Twitter thanks to widespread criticism of the decision.
So did Guillen and Frank Thomas, the former teammates who are making life miserable for the Sox manager with their blunt analysis of the late-season swoon. Guillen’s words and Thomas’s facial expressions leave nothing left for interpretation. Sox TV analyst Steve Stone has been less critical on broadcasts but appears as baffled as anyone by Renteria’s moves.
Someone tweeted at Stone after Thursday’s game: “Just say it: #Renteria isn’t a good manager. You know it. We know you know it. It’s obvious. Truth is good.”
“My lips are sealed,” Stone replied.
Since he’s paid to offer analysis, Stone’s silence speaks volume.
Fortunately for Renteria, the only one who really matters is general manager Rick Hahn, who has steadfastly defended his manager through the rebuild. Hahn knows what Twitter trolls are like, and has no use for them.
Hahn also is the one who decided to bring up Rodon with four games remaining to use out of the bullpen, where the Sox could use another left-hander in the postseason.
Renteria said he didn’t want to use Rodon for an inning, and thought it was a good matchup against switch-hitting Cesar Hernandez after Jimmy Cordero loaded the bases and got two outs.
Rodon has been a starter his entire career with the exception of three games as a rookie in 2015. After making Rodon the third pick of the 2014 draft, the Sox fast-tracked him to the majors and planned to use him out of the pen in ’15.
But when starters Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija were suspended for their roles in an epic brawl with the Kansas City Royals in April, Rodon was inserted into the rotation and never looked back. Despite a series of injuries, Rodon continued to battle to return to the Sox and finally made it back again on Thursday.
Had Rodon retired Hernandez and escaped the jam to help nail down the win, the Sox would be tied with the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central and his return would be a feel-good story. Instead, Hernandez managed to single despite being jammed on a 3-2 pitch, bringing home two runs.
With the new MLB rule stating relievers must face at least three batters or finish the inning, Renteria had no choice but to keep Rodon in against the switch-hitting Jose Ramirez, who is hitting .375 with a 1.380 OPS against left-handers. Ramirez doubled to deep left-center to bring in the tying and go-ahead runs. The Sox had two more opportunities in the eighth and ninth but did nothing with them.
The reaction on Twitter, as expected, was swift and harsh. Renteria was ripped for putting in a pitcher who was coming off the injured list and had virtually no experience pitching in relief in a tight spot. Most wanted to see Aaron Bummer, who also came off the IL and later came in to pitch a scoreless eighth.
Renteria already was under the microscope for using Gio Gonzalez in the ninth inning Wednesday instead of closer Alex Colome. Indians outfielder Jordan Luplow hit a walk-off home run off Gonzalez on a 3-0 pitch.
Gonzalez was made unavailable to the media Wednesday after serving up the game-winning homer. To his credit, Rodon appeared in a Zoom teleconference after Thursday’s loss. When informed of all the heat Renteria was taking, Rodon put the blame on himself.
“I’m the one who threw the pitch,” Rodon said. “I’m the one who gave up the hits. He had nothing to do with throwing any pitch. So it’s not on him.”
As usual, Dallas Keuchel put things in their proper perspective after Thursday’s game, noting the difficulty of being used as a reliever after having started most of your career. Keuchel recalled being inserted in the decisive fifth game of the AL Division Series in 2015, where he served up a three-run, eighth-inning home run to Kendrys Morales to put the game out of reach and end the Houston Astros’ season.
“So I have no room to talk about (how) it should be easy to come into ballgames,” Keuchel said. “His name is called and he was man enough to say he didn’t get the job done and made no excuses about it. We’re starters for a reason. There are bullpen guys for a reason. I’m not one to make excuses, like I said.
“He had a tough position to come into, especially with the way Cesar had handled the bat tonight and Jose’s been off the charts, so I pitched around him tonight, for sure. Man, I was glad I wasn’t in the game, because that’s a very tough spot.”
Renteria rolled the dice on Rodon. It didn’t work out.
“I anticipated the positive,” he said. “Obviously, it didn’t occur.”
Now the Sox have three games against the similarly struggling Cubs to try to end with a top-four seed for home-field advantage in the wild-card round.
It’s never easy being a Sox fan, but you already knew that.
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