CHICAGO — In a 1980s flashback, the first “Fire Tony” chants of the new era rang out Saturday in the 10th inning of the Chicago White Sox’s 11-9 loss to the Texas Rangers.
Manager Tony La Russa also was loudly booed by the remnants of the crowd of 30,221 when he came to the mound remove reliever Matt Foster in the four-run 10th, reminiscent of the times he came out to remove Ken Kravec or another struggling Sox pitcher at old Comiskey Park in the 1980s.
The voices of discontent were impossible to ignore and a sign La Russa’s approval rating continues to plummet on the South Side.
“Well, I hear it with one ear and I see it with one eye,” La Russa said. “I just know, I appreciate they want us to win, and when we don’t win they’re unhappy. I’m pleased that they are, you know? We have the team to win, and we’re losing games. Nobody in that clubhouse, including the manager and coaches, is happy. I like it when they care enough to be upset.”
While there was no smoking gun pointing to La Russa for Saturday’s loss, like the infamous intentional walk issued with a 1-2 count Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 77-year-old manager has a target on his back.
“I’ve said before: I learned you’re accountable for everything, right?” he said. “Anything that is happening with this team, in the end, I’m responsible for, so. … And you figure that out.
“If you don’t like the record, (it’s my) responsibility. If you don’t like the moves? Whatever is it. Never have dodged accountability, and I won’t start now.”
For four innings Saturday the crowd was upbeat and enjoying the ugly polyester shirt giveaway. But the game turned into a virtual rerun of Thursday’s 11-9 loss, a game in which the Sox also blew an early four-run lead. Only the names changed. After being staked to a 5-0 lead, Lucas Giolito was hit hard during a four-run fourth, a rerun of Dylan Cease’s fifth inning surrender against the Dodgers.
And the crowd began reacting to the carnage in much the same manner as Thursday. Sitting in Section 117 during the fifth, I heard multiple suggestions from fans loudly pleading with La Russa to start warming someone up, along with the inevitable wisecracks such as “Better walk this guy, Tony.”
It’s apparent the intentional walk La Russa ordered to Trea Turner with a 1-2 count Thursday won’t be forgotten anytime soon, even if NBC Sports Chicago decided to edit the fateful inning out of the replay of its telecast because of alleged “time constraints.”
Move on. Nothing to see here.
La Russa was limited Saturday by a tired bullpen. He said the five relievers he used were the only ones available out of his nine-man bullpen without risking injury. Trailing 5-0 and 7-4, the Rangers eventually tied the game 7-7 in the seventh off Bennett Sousa. By the bottom of the inning, aggravated Sox fans began doing the wave.
Foster gave up four runs while facing only four batters in the 10th before the Sox rallied for two runs in the bottom of the inning to fall short, just like Thursday’s last-gasp rally. The loss left the Sox at 27-30, six games behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins.
Giolito blamed himself for failing to get stronger as the game went on, forcing La Russa to go to the pen too early. The players know La Russa is taking the heat for their performance and heard the “Fire Tony” chants.
“Fans are going to have their own opinions,” Giolito said. “A lot of colorful opinions at times. For us, we focus on (putting) a little bubble around it, focus on the game, trying to keep it close in extra innings and mount that comeback. Just fell short. Again, responsibility falls on me, even letting the door open in the fifth inning. It could have gone way differently.”
But it didn’t, and now it’s up to Michael Kopech on Sunday to try to win the series before the start of a trip to Detroit and Houston.
La Russa has been booed before and no doubt will be booed again. But Sox fans also vented on some of the players, particularly Yoan Moncada, who went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and watched his average fall to .133. He was one of three sub-.200 hitters in Saturday’s lineup along with Yasmani Grandal (.175) and Leury Garcia (.185). Grandal had two hits before leaving with a left hamstring injury that is certain to sideline him.
Waiting for a turnaround has been a maddening process for Sox fans, whose patience has worn thin one-third of the way through the season. La Russa has kept the faith, hoping he’ll be rewarded down the line with the kind of performances his underachieving hitters have shown in the past.
“It’s clear to me that during the long season, guys are going to play somewhere near what they do in their career as long as they are healthy,” La Russa said before the game.
“That’s part of what is optimistic is what Yaz has done the last few days, he’s swinging better. Starting adding some of those guys to our lineup and it gets deeper and deeper and we can score more than a couple, three runs.”
Truth be told, La Russa has few options. Catcher Reese McGuire was the only left-handed bat of the 12 position players. The three switch-hitters — Grandal, Moncada and Garcia — haven’t performed. The Sox optioned left-handed-hitting Gavin Sheets to Triple-A Charlotte on Friday and have no reliable lefty hitter to call up.
The lack of left-handed bats was a predicament everyone knew about in the offseason but one Sox general manager Rick Hahn failed to adequately address. That’s on Hahn, not La Russa.
But when things started going south Saturday, the mood at Sox Park quickly turned from festive to ugly, and La Russa was the one taking the heat.
You could hear it with both ears, and you could see it with both eyes.