CHICAGO — The first two of games of this American League division series between the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox were decidedly one-sided. The Astros outscored their opponent by a combined 15-5 and came into Sunday needing just one more victory to advance to their fifth straight A.L. Championship Series. The White Sox, winners of a weaker division, looked overmatched.
Still, White Sox fans filled Guaranteed Rate Field for Game 3 on Sunday night, their team’s first home postseason game since 2008. They rained boos — and vulgarities — onto the Astros who were part of the 2017 World Series team that was later revealed to have cheated. The stands teemed with beer, energy and black jerseys, lifting the spirits of their hometown team.
“This place was rocking,” White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal said.
In front of 40,288 people, the White Sox responded in kind, producing a 12-6 win over the Astros that saved their season and trimmed their deficit in the best-of-five series to two-games-to-one. The odds are still in the Astros’ favor, but the White Sox lived to play another day, with Game 4 set for Monday afternoon.
The White Sox survived a seesawing nine-inning game that lasted nearly four and a half hours. They survived after their starting pitcher lasted only one and two-thirds innings. They survived an Astros offense that was the highest scoring in baseball during the regular season and the second hardest to strike out — although that raised some eyebrows among some in the White Sox bullpen.
Ryan Tepera, who tossed two perfect innings as part of a stout White Sox relief effort on Sunday, found it curious that the Astros struck out 16 times in Game 3 in Chicago after striking out that many times combined in Games 1 and 2 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“They’ve obviously had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there,” he said. “You can say that it’s a little bit of difference. You saw the swings and misses tonight compared to the first two games at Minute Maid.”
The White Sox, though, were also different on Sunday, and the game pivoted in the third and fourth innings. In the third, Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker smashed a two-run home run off Michael Kopech for a 5-1 lead. Kopech had come on in relief of White Sox starter Dylan Cease, who left early after coughing up three runs.
But livened by a raucous stadium, the White Sox mounted a furious rally. Grandal clobbered a two-run blast off Astros starter Luis Garcia that trimmed their deficit to 5-3.
Garcia got another out but coughed up two singles. Astros Manager Dusty Baker chose to leave his starter in the game, but after Garcia fell behind in the count, 2-0, to White Sox outfielder Leury Garcia, Baker made the unusual decision to yank him from the game mid at-bat. Baker said he didn’t turn to Yimi Garcia sooner because the reliever needed more time to warm up.
Put in a tough spot, Yimi Garcia surrendered a two-run home run to Leury Garcia that gave the White Sox a 6-5 lead and sent the crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field into a frenzy.
Even after the Astros tied the game with a single by third baseman Alex Bregman in the top of the fourth inning, the White Sox charged right back in the bottom half of the inning. First baseman Jose Abreu smacked a run-scoring single to put his team ahead by 7-6. The lead increased to 8-6 on a curious play with Astros pitcher Zack Greinke, the 2009 A.L. Cy Young Award winner, whose performance and stuff have regressed significantly.
After Greinke, who was making just his second relief appearance since 2008, got Grandal to chop a ball down the line, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel fielded it and fired home. But Grandal, instead of running on the dirt of the first base line, ran further inside on the grass. Gurriel’s throw hit Grandal’s left arm and ricocheted past Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, allowing White Sox center fielder Luis Robert to slide in safely.
White Sox Manager Tony La Russa said Grandal simply ran from the angle he left home plate to first base and didn’t intentionally interfere. Baker disagreed but called it a smart play by Grandal.
“I wish I could tell you it was a heads-up play,” Grandal said. “I just saw the replay. I didn’t know I was running that far inside the line.”
It ultimately didn’t matter. The next batter, Eloy Jimenez, added another run with a single off Greinke. And later, the White Sox tacked on several more runs. Even though the game’s pace dragged in the early going, the stands remained full and loud through the ninth.
“I can’t tell you the impression that made on our ball club, that fans stayed until the end,” La Russa said. “That was amazing for four and a half hours.”