There’s something crushing about the look on a pitcher’s face when he comes off the mound after a particularly bad game. That look twisted Jordan Zimmermann’s features on Friday night as he passed the ball off to stand-in manager Steve Liddle and headed for the dugout. His cheeks were flushed red from the chilly Detroit air, but in his eyes the message was clear: I should have done better.
Command was not on Zimmermann’s side, whether it was a result of the brisk night or something else, who knows, but through 6.1 innings of work Zimmermann gave up four walks — including one that would walk in the game’s second run — and four earned runs on six hits.
The first of those runs was an inauspicious omen in the first inning to Yoan Moncada, giving the White Sox an early lead, and perhaps the vigor they needed for a bounce back from their loss to the Tigers the previous night.
It was not all doom and gloom, though. Josh Harrison collected his first home run of the season off of Carlos Rodon.
Ah, what is the meaning of relief? It is meant to offer reassurance in moments of distress or anxiety. For the Tigers, the arrival of Daniel Stumpf to take the place of Zimmermann offered neither, as the run total continued to mount in the White Sox favor. One of the runs would fall to Zimmermann, bringing his total to five for the night. Stumpf added two more on top of that, giving the Sox a 7-1 lead, and leaving Steve Liddle no choice but to make the long walk back to the mound and send one more pitcher off with that haunted expression in their eyes.
Let us, for a moment, pause to reflect on how this task fell on Liddle for the evening. To do so, we must understand that this evening was constructed on the shoulders of baseball’s unwritten rules, and the peril of defying them. White Sox manager Rick Renteria was nowhere to be found on Friday, serving his suspension for the part he played in the week’s earlier donnybrook between the Sox and the Royals over bat flips and chin music. There is another unwritten rule, one grasped onto tightly by umpires, and it is usually a simple one to follow: do not argue balls and strikes. Ron Gardenhire did not listen to what years of experience should have taught him. As Jordan Zimmermann’s inside pitch was ruled a ball, and a run was walked in, Gardenhire emerged from the dugout in a flurry of unheard snarls, and was promptly ejected into the shunning depths of the clubhouse tunnels.
Ryan Burr (sir) came on to replace Rodon, and there was another positive first, as young catcher Grayson Greiner hit not only his first home run of the season, but the first of his career. As he grounded the bases with breathless excitement (and zero flipped bats) his comrades were ready to greet him in the dugout with all the high fives they could muster. The kid was a bonafide major leaguer now. The night was not lost yet.
The drama of the eighth inning was remarkable, with Reed Garrett coming on and loading the bases, giving the anxiety-inducing sensation we were about to see history repeat itself, and that certainly the Sox were going to extend their lead. But no! There was, indeed, relief after all, as Garrett pitched his way out of the jam, and left Sox out to dry.
On the note of relief and despair, the Tigers opted for Joe Jimenez in the ninth. The reliever, whose confidence had been shaken in recent outings, was perhaps thought to do better in a situation where the team was already five runs back. In a game already heavily burdened by walks, Jimenez’s own upwards trending walk numbers could not do much more harm. As the rain began to fall and the chill cut into the bones of the remaining crowd, Jimenez offered a spark of warmth and collected back-to-back strikeouts to shut down the side. Not a walk in sight.
Niko Goodrum, that beloved utility knight of this new era, hit a home run into the empty left field seats where two determined young fans scrambled over the slick plastic seats to claim a souvenir for the night. The Tigers chip, chip, chipped away. Some White Sox errors on the field managed to give the Tigers a little extra life, but they would collect no more runs.
Perhaps the greatest sight of the night wasn’t on the field at all, but the woman in the seats wrapped in blankets with an umbrella perched on her shoulder, as she dutifully recorded the game score right to the very end, even after everyone around her had left for the night.
The Tigers — and their fans — will see all these games through to the final out.