CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago White Sox had their sights set on advancing in the playoffs after running away with the AL Central.
Stacked with stars and led by Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, another early exit wasn't what they envisioned.
Chicago's season came to an emphatic end Tuesday, with a 10-1 loss to AL West champion Houston in Game 4 of a Division Series that wasn't close.
They never got the pitching and only occasionally got the hitting that carried them to their first division championship in 13 years and gave them back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time. And after getting knocked out by Oakland in the wild-card round last year, they bowed out in humbling fashion against the Astros.
Not what chairman Jerry Reisndorf had in mind when he helped lure La Russa out of retirement, raising more than a few eyebrows, to replace Rick Renteria.
There were big questions about how the old-school, three-time World Series champion would relate to Chicago's fun-loving young stars like Tim Anderson after a decade away from the dugout.
It wasn't exactly smooth sailing, either. And it's not clear if La Russa will return next season.
“I'm not gonna talk about myself,” he said. “The process I've used once I had a little security — probably about the fifth or sixth year — is ‘do they want you back?’ I just leave if they don't want you back. They say yes, then you ask the players. They should choose who they want to manage. If you get both of those, then you check yourself.”
La Russa had a public disagreement with a couple of his players after he scolded Yermín Mercedes for homering on a 3-0 pitch during the ninth inning of a 16-4 victory over Minnesota in May. But the White Sox looked like a contender all year, boasting a top-notch lineup and pitching staff.
Along the way, La Russa moved past John McGraw into second place on baseball’s all-time wins list behind Connie Mack. And Game 4 starter Carlos Rodón called him a “very special manager.”
“It was just a pleasure to play for him. Not many guys can say they’ve played for a Hall of Fame manager," he said.
Rodón, who exited in the third inning, described the season as “a fun ride.” It just didn't end the way Chicago wanted.
The White Sox were outscored 15-5 and didn't even get an extra-base hit while dropping the first two games in Houston. The team with the best home record in the American League took Game 3 at Guaranteed Rate Field 12-6, only to get eliminated in its own ballpark.
“It's a learning experience for all of us,” said rookie Gavin Sheets, who homered and doubled. “We got a big taste of what it's like to play at home in the playoffs. I don't think anybody's gonna forget today and Sunday night, just what it was like — the crowd, the ‘blackout,' the support. That burns a fire. That makes you want to do it again, with a different outcome.”
The White Sox were banking on Rodón to help send the series back to Houston for a decisive fifth game. The left-hander — limited down the stretch by an achy shoulder — brought the heat early on, only to fizzle quickly.
Rodón gave up a double to Jose Altuve on the game's first pitch, then seemed to settle in. He retired the next three batters, striking out Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez on 99 mph fastballs to end the threat.
Rodón pitched around a leadoff single by Carlos Correa in the second. But he hit Altuve in the third, one of the few times the crowd of 40,170 cheered during the game, and issued back-to-back walks to Bregman and Alvarez to load the bases with two out.
Correa then chased Rodón with a two-run double to put Houston on top 2-1, and the White Sox never really recovered.
It was a rough end for Chicago after going 93-69 and beating Cleveland by 13 games in the division. The White Sox finished with their highest win total since the 2005 World Series championship team went 99-63, even though key players such as Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez missed time with injuries.
Rodón made his first All-Star team and set a career high in wins, going 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA. He threw just 28 innings over the final two months of the regular season.
In the playoffs, he wasn't the only White Sox starter to struggle. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease didn't deliver the way they hoped, either.
Rodón, who has a history of arm and shoulder injuries, is staring at an uncertain future. He has an expiring contract, meaning he might have walked off the mound for the final time in a White Sox uniform.
“It was definitely a special moment,” he said. “It's been an interesting road for me. Just to have the opportunity to pitch an important game, it meant a lot. So thank you, White Sox fans. And thank you to the organization.”
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