White Sox squander early lead in loss
Five-run first inning not enough against Royals
CHICAGO -- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had just one goal for the final week of the 2007 season. With the South Siders long out of contention, his focus for the final six games of the campaign was clear and simple.
"Just get six wins," the Sox skipper said before Tuesday's game. "That's all I care about. Get six wins."
As has been the case with nearly every goal the White Sox have set for themselves this season, it didn't take long for the squad to fall short.
The White Sox blew an early four-run lead, as Kansas City handed Chicago a 9-5 loss to open the final homestand of the season and drop the Sox into a last-place tie in the American League Central.
Chicago started strong against Kansas City, striking for five first-inning runs against AL Rookie of the Year candidate Brian Bannister. Jose Contreras was looking at his best and after six innings, it looked like the Sox had a chance to cruise to their third win in their last four games.
But as has happened so many times in 2007, things simply fell apart. The offense floundered, tallying just four hits and no runs after the first inning outburst. And after six solid innings, Contreras melted down and the bullpen looked lost.
Contreras' quick stumble was the most disappointing aspect of the late-inning collapse. After a season of struggles, the veteran right-hander had seemingly come around, winning his last four decisions. And for his first six innings, he looked like his rejuvenated self, allowing just one earned run and retiring eight hitters in a row for one stretch.
But in the seventh, he seemed to leave pitches up in the zone, as the Royals struck for three more runs against the Sox starter.
"He hit the wall in one inning and he threw a couple of pitches down the middle of the plate and he got hit pretty good," Guillen said. "We scored five runs in the first inning, then all of a sudden, we got shut down. Our offense got shut down after that inning and they were pushing little by little and that's the reason they won the game."
Despite his seventh-inning lapse, Contreras earned a no-decision for his efforts, running his unbeaten stretch to six starts dating back to Aug. 22.
"What is frustrating is that if I throw the seventh inning and get out of it, the team wins," Contreras said. "I just stayed high in the zone and if you do that, you are going to get hurt. But if I had just got out of the seventh, the team would have won."
To Contreras' credit, he still gave his team a chance to win. He exited with the lead, but the bullpen was unable to shut the door and the offense could not find any traction against six different Royals relievers.
While the Kansas City bullpen held the Sox to just four hits over 8 1/3 innings of relief work, the Sox relief staff struggled simply to get outs.
Mike MacDougal was hit the hardest, giving up two Royals insurance runs on two hits in the eighth inning.
"I have a pitching coach, I don't have a magician," Guillen said. "I think this kid, he throws the ball unbelievably well, and then the next day, all of a sudden, he can't find it. It is hard to explain that situation."
The inconsistency was not limited to MacDougal. Guillen emphasized that his bullpen on the whole looked out of rhythm.
"Their relievers did a tremendous job and our relievers didn't," Guillen said. "We didn't do the job in the bullpen. We had been good in the bullpen the last couple of weeks and we weren't today."
The Sox offense looked terrific at the start. Six of the first eight hitters reached base, leading to a quick hook for Bannister, who lasted a career-worst two-thirds of an inning. Four different White Sox hitters drove in runs as part of the five-run rally.
But that was it offensively from Guillen's side, who managed to put two more runners in scoring position the rest of the ballgame and sent only three hitters to the plate in four different innings.
The four-run deficit was the largest that the Royals had overcome in any victory this season.
The Chicago defeat moved the clubs into a tie for the bottom spot in the AL Central with identical 68-89 records. The White Sox have not finished in last place in the division since 1989.
Alex Gyr is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.