Chicago — There is an attack dog inside of Tarik Skubal and the White Sox tried to exploit that Sunday.
Behind seven strong innings from Skubal, the Tigers completed the sweep with a 3-2 win over the Southsiders at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Miggy told me before the game, with some expletives, that I better go seven innings,” Skubal said with a laugh afterwards. “So there was that little bit of a challenge. That’s where my reaction when I came out came from.”
Skubal all but leapt off the mound after he got Tim Anderson to ground out to close out the seventh.
“Skubes was amazing,” said Spencer Torkelson, whose no-doubter home run in the top of the seventh broke a 2-2 tie. “He deserved a couple of more runs than we put up for him. It did feel a little extra special to be able to put us ahead there.”
Torkelson launched a 3-2 sweeper from lefty Aaron Bummer, sending it 436 feet just short of the concourse beyond the seats in left field. He quietly flipped his bat and then let out a roar toward his teammates in the dugout.
“I don’t even know what I did,” he said. “I was just hyped up and I looked at the dugout and gave a quick Woo and went. I just feel like we’d struggled to get runs on the board and when you hit a homer in the seventh to go ahead, it feels a lot better than hitting one in like the second inning.”
Relievers Jason Foley and Alex Lange got the final six outs. The White Sox put two runners on against Lange in the ninth before inducing Oscar Colas to bang into a 4-6-3 double play to earn his 21st save.
But this one was about Skubal.
“He can get a lot of guys out in a lot of different ways,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He doesn’t need to do it the same way every time. He’s not a predictable pitcher. He’s starting to mature.”
Skubal conducted a seminar in adaptability. Because he wobbled early.
Anderson, as he often does, ambushed Skubal’s first pitch of the game, a fastball, for a double. But Skubal kept attacking. His first 10 pitches were strikes. The 10th one, another fastball, got swatted into right field by Eloy Jimenez for a two-out RBI single and the inning briefly got away from Skubal.
He walked Yoan Moncada after getting ahead 0-2. That led to an RBI single by Elvis Andrus and a laborious 21-pitch first inning.
But it did not deter Skubal in any discernible way. In fact, he allowed just two other hits after the first and produced his most efficient win of the season, rolling through seven innings in 97 pitches.
“That first inning, you don’t draw up a start like that,” he said. “But it’s about how you respond. I still had 80-some more pitches in the tank. Just try to eat as many innings as you can and give our team a chance to win. And we did that.”
It should be pointed out, too, that being an attack dog doesn’t mean you have to bite with your fastball. Here was Skubal’s pitch mix against a Chicago lineup that featured seven right-handed hitters: 29 changeups, 26 sliders, 22 four-seam fastballs, 10 two-seamers, 10 knuckle curves.
He got swing and misses with all of them, 20 in total.
Credit to catcher Carson Kelly for making the in-game alteration to the secondary pitches.
“A lot of it is what the hitter tells you,” said Kelly, who delivered a clutch, two-out, two-run single in the second inning. “He was getting a lot of swings and misses on changeups and sliders and he had good command of that. And then he started to throw heaters by some guys.
“It’s just in-game adjustments and he was on-board with it.”
Skubal’s fastball out of the gate was more lifeless than usual. The velocity was down to a tick over 94 mph, almost 2 mph under his season average.
“They were on the heater and they were hitting it good,” Skubal said. “Teams can be on the fastball but sometimes teams don’t hit it. I felt like they were hitting it good. Carson felt the same way so we stopped throwing it.”
This at-bat with Jimenez in the third inning illustrated Skubal’s doggedness: Jimenez smoked a 1-0 changeup just foul down the left-field line. Undaunted, Skubal came back with the changeup on the next pitch. Foul ball, 1-2 count.
After the count went full, Skubal fearlessly went back to the changeup again and got him to pop out to second base.
“Location is everything,” he said. “A top shelf changeup at 82 mph, didn’t really have the depth on it, and it got smoked. When he called the changeup again, that’s what I wanted to throw. I was like, ‘Exactly.’ When you’re a hitter, you think you’re going to get a fastball after you’d just smoked something hard like that.
“It’s just the art of pitching. Carson has such a good feel back there.”
Skubal went back to the heater later in the game.
Jimenez ambushed a first-pitch slider and led off the sixth with a double. The game was still tied at 2. Again, Skubal shrugged it. He struck out Moncada with a 96-mph fastball, got Andrus to pop to first and blew away Trayce Thompson with a 97-mph heater.
“You’re going to have an inning or two where things aren’t perfect,” Hinch said. “His was the first. Then he just collected himself and rolled out six scoreless innings. He certainly did his part. He hung in there and was able to make pitches at the end, just as he was starting to tire a little bit.
“But his competitiveness never does.”
On the other side of the starting pitcher coin was the curious case of White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech.
He dominated the Tigers back on June 4, striking out nine and allowing two runs in seven innings.
He was very different on Sunday. In truth, he’s been a different pitcher since the middle of June.
In his previous 12 starts before Sunday, he’d walked 51 hitters in 50⅓ innings. He led the American League with 84 walks and padded his lead Sunday. He only lasted 1⅔ innings against the Tigers and it was hard to watch.
He walked five of the 10 batters he faced. Twenty-eight of his 44 pitches were out of the strike zone.
“We did a good job of making him earn the strike zone,” Hinch said. “We ended up getting 10 free passes, nine walks and one hit batter, many at the beginning of the game to drive him out and put their bullpen in a tough spot. But our approach hunt true. We were ready to hit.
“We didn’t capitalize as much as we’d like, but gave ourselves opportunities.”
It was the Tigers’ fourth straight win and they improve their record in the Central Division to 28-15.
“You’ve got to beat teams in your division,” Skubal said. “Obviously the different (balanced) schedule changes things. We need to be better out of our division. Especially against the American League East, who we are about to go play.”
The Tigers are heading to New York to play the Yankees, carrying a 6-23 record against the East.