White Sox storm back late to steal thunder from Matt Manning’s impressive season finale

Detroit News

Chicago — It was calculated, but it was risky.

The Tigers decided to call up prospect Matt Manning on June 15 from Triple-A Toledo where he was, to say the least, struggling with an ERA over 8. But the rotation was reeling from injuries to Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd.

Manager AJ Hinch, though, sensed part of Manning’s problem in Triple-A might’ve been boredom. He needed a kick in the butt, a fresh challenge and nothing gets a young player’s attention like competing against the best players on the planet.

It could’ve gone real bad. Manning, predictably, got kicked around by big-league hitters for a while. But as Hinch suspected, Manning, supremely confident, didn’t cower from the fight. Licking his wounds, he got with pitching coach Chris Fetter and started fixing things. And seemingly with every start, he got incrementally better.

He made his 18th and final start of the season Saturday in the White Sox’s come-from-behind 5-4 win the Tigers. And it was a mature and impressive performance.

BOX SCORE: White Sox 5, Tigers 4

Facing the Central Division champion White Sox for the third time in 13 days, having been roughed up by them in the previous two, Manning pitched five innings of two-hit shutout baseball at Guaranteed Rate Field, with a season-high seven strikeouts. He attacked them fearlessly with fastballs.

He threw 35 four-seamers with an average velocity of 95 mph and hitting 98. He threw 13 sinkers, averaging 94 mph and hitting 98. He mixed in just enough change-ups, sliders and curves to keep the hitters honest.

His two at-bats against Leury Garcia were emblematic of his day. With a runner on in the third inning, Manning struck him out swinging at a 97-mph heater. He had climbed the velocity ladder on him — 93, 96, 97.

Yoan Moncada doubled to lead off the fifth. He was still there with two outs when Manning and Garcia locked up in a seven-pitch battle. Manning threw him five straight four-seam fastballs — 95, 95, 97, 96, 97. The count was 1-2.

Seeing Garcia confidently take the fifth fastball, he changed course and threw back-to-back curveballs. Garcia barely got a piece of the first and whiffed on the second to end the inning.

The Tigers probably threw Manning into the deep end before he truly knew how to swim. But he’s swimming confidently now.

He left with a 1-0 lead after five innings and the Tigers ran off three more runs against lefty Dallas Keuchel in the top of the seventh. Eric Haase (RBI single), Daz Cameron (RBI double) and Robbie Grossman (RBI single) did the damage.

Alas, the White Sox didn’t have as much trouble hitting against Tigers’ bullpen as they did Manning. They took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to score three runs in the seventh against right-hander Jose Urena.

With one out and a runner at second, Moncada’s ground ball bounced over first baseman Miguel Cabrera’s head. Three singles later, the last two by Garcia and Tim Anderson off right-hander Alex Lange, cut the Tigers lead to one.

Then in the bottom of the eighth, after Chicago native Kyle Funkhouser struck out Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal, he walked Eloy Jimenez and yielded a first-pitch, two-run home run to Moncada.

Also blunted by the late loss was a milestone night for Grossman. He was well-aware entering the game Saturday that he needed one more stolen base to join the 20-20 club — 20 home runs and 20 steals. He did not try to hide the fact that he wanted that on his resume badly.

“It means a lot to me,” said Grossman, who had never stolen more than nine in a season. “God-willing I will get a chance to get it.”

The first chance he got came in the fourth inning and he took it. He led off with a single and took one pitch to size up White Sox starter Lucas Giolito’s time to the plate. He bolted on the second pitch, swiping the bag without a throw.

“I think (stealing bases) is something that’s evolved in my game the last year or two,” Grossman said. “It’s just about picking my spots and going. It’s just trusting myself as a player. I’ve watched other guys do it and they say, ‘Hey, if it’s a good time to do it, trust yourself and go.’”

It was a good time to do it for two reasons. One, Giolito was more interested in the batter (Jonathan Schoop) and Grossman got himself in scoring position. Jeimer Candelario singled him home for the game’s first run.

Grossman is the seventh player in Tigers’ history to enter the 20-20 club. He joins Chad Curtis (1995), Damion Easley (1997), Kirk Gibson (1984-85, 1987), Curtis Granderson (2007, 2009), Gary Sheffield (2007) and Alan Trammell (1986).

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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