Gonzales: The Sox changed the game. Next year, it's time to finish it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez waits during a mound visit against the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning during Game 4 of a baseball American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Chicago.

    Chicago White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez waits during a mound visit against the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning during Game 4 of a baseball American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Chicago.

 
Updated 10/12/2021 7:43 PM

The White Sox fulfilled their 2021 "Change the Game" slogan with dazzling, dramatic moments that resulted in their first American League Central title since 2008.

But after coming up short in an array of categories that led to their elimination in the American League Division Series, perhaps "Finish the Game" would be an apt slogan for 2022.

 

The mission remains singular for a franchise that took a step forward with a division title, yet failed to advance past the first round for the second consecutive postseason -- this time against a Houston Astros team that executed the templates for sustained success with a sound 10-1 victory Tuesday that enabled them to win three of four games in this best-of-five series.

"So bittersweet," manager Tony La Russa summed up.

Carlos Rodon's tender left shoulder regained the 99 mph fastball that made him one of the AL's top pitchers, yet he struggled the second time around the Astros lineup and paid a price when Carlos Correa hit a letter-high fastball on an 0-2 pitch for a 2-run double in the third inning that wiped out the White Sox's lone lead.

Michael Kopech was available to replace Rodon to face Correa, but the White Sox's issues ran deeper than Kopech not being summoned sooner.

And for all the high-tech advancements by the Astros in the previous decade (including the sign-stealing debacle that led to fines, firings and loss of high draft picks for two seasons), they employed traditional methods to their advantage.

"Anybody that has kids knows that they need us to direct them, but they keep you hip and modern to what's going on today and possibly in the future," Astros manager Dusty Baker said in blending analytics with conventional methods.

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Martin Maldonado executed a sacrifice bunt that set up Michael Brantley's RBI single in the sixth.

Correa, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve delivered 2-out hits, with Altuve smacking a 3-run home run in the ninth that poured salt in an increasingly wide wound after slugger Jose Abreu was hit by a pitch with 2 outs in the eighth that caused La Russa to insist it was intentional (five innings after Correa was drilled).

But the White Sox caused their own issues throughout the series. Starting pitchers Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Rodon pitched a combined 12 1/3 innings.

There's a greater sense of urgency in the playoffs, but it was the Astros' unheralded relievers who held the White Sox scoreless over the final five innings after ace Lance McCullers experienced right forearm discomfort that makes his status for the AL Championship Series uncertain.

The Astros also stole four bases Tuesday, less than two weeks after Detroit stole nine in a weekend series and prompted La Russa to declare this would be addressed prior to the ALDS.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

These experiences should make the White Sox better just as the failure to beat the Oakland Athletics in the 2020 AL Wild-Card series motivated them to win the 2021 AL Central.

Most of the roster should remain intact. Rookie Gavin Sheets provided encouragement for the future with a home run in the second, and general manager Rick Hahn should be commended for making several midseason moves without trading young hitters like Andrew Vaughn and Sheets, as well as pitching prospects like Jared Kelly, Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist.

But defense at second base was shaky, and their right field woes were exposed in the seventh inning of Game 2 when Leury Garcia twisted and turned as Carlos Correa's drive sailed past him for a two-run double.

Kopech will be groomed as a starter next spring that could loom larger if Rodon signs a free-agent contract elsewhere.

"You just kind of think through the season you had," Rodon said. "And then you look at the guys out on the field (the Astros) that are cheering in front of you. I wanted that feeling.

"That's why I just sat there -- sat there and watched just for a little extra motivation and let that sit there for me."

@MDGonzales

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