Johnny Cueto returned for the eighth inning Thursday at Globe Life Field, aiming to keep the Chicago White Sox within striking distance of the Texas Rangers.
“I felt good,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “(Manager Tony La Russa) had the confidence in me and gave me the chance to go out there. It was good.”
Cueto did his part, retiring the heart of the order in order. But the Sox couldn’t put together a rally in the ninth, losing 3-2 in the opener of a four-game series in front of 20,972.
Rangers starter Cole Ragans and three relievers limited the Sox to five hits.
“We got shut down,” La Russa said. “He pitched with a lot of poise. (The third inning) he had some breaks against him and he came back and made good pitches.”
Ragans allowed one unearned run on three hits in five innings in his major-league debut but did not factor in the decision. The run came in that third, which included a walk, a dropped flyball and a close play at the plate.
Luis Robert, playing in his first game since being reinstated from the injured list Tuesday, led off the with a walk.
With one out and Robert on second, José Abreu hit a flyball to right. At first glance, Adolis García appeared to make the catch and drop the ball during the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand. But upon a review, it was clear García never had control of the ball in his glove. Abreu was awarded first, with Robert already on third after the initial drop.
Andrew Vaughn squibbed one between the plate and the mound. Ragans made an underhanded toss to the plate from his glove, but Robert made a nice slide to avoid catcher Jonah Heim’s tag to tie the game at 1.
Robert went 1-for-3 with two walks and the run. “Felt good,” Robert said of the return to action. He hadn’t played since July 15.
The game remained tied until the seventh.
A bloop by Ezequiel Duran landed out of the reach of right fielder Andrew Vaughn for a single, giving the Rangers runners on first and second with one out.
“He wasn’t playing all that deep, those balls were just perfectly placed,” La Russa said. “He did a heck of a job keeping the ball in front of him. We also had a bloop that fell for a triple (in the eighth) for us, too, and they don’t play deep. Their fielder is shallow. It’s a good-sized outfield, but we weren’t all that deep and neither were there. Just bloops.”
Pinch hitter Meibrys Viloria broke the tie with an RBI single to center. Duran later scored on a sacrifice fly to right when Vaughn and center fielder AJ Pollock got tangled up.
“He took a little peek at me, I was thinking he wanted me to take it,” Pollock said. “I should have taken another peek at him and seen that he was there. You get to that awkward point where you don’t know if he’s going to let me and all of a sudden the ball drops. So just kept going.
“We would have had a better shot obviously at home. I don’t know if we would have got him. But definitely would have had a better shot if I didn’t clip him there.”
The Sox got within a run in the eighth when Abreu scored on Yoán Moncada’s triple that got between center fielder Leody Taveras and García.
Cueto was at 93 pitches when he went back out for the eighth.
“We talked to him,” La Russa said. “He has an extra day before he pitches next time. He felt good. (Reliever Joe) Kelly was warming up, so we weren’t going to let him get in trouble. But he goes one, two, three.”
Cueto allowed three runs on 11 hits with four strikeouts and no walks in the 106-pitch outing.
“My plan has been to just try to make quick outs,” Cueto said. “I haven’t been trying to strike out too many batters because I want to go deep into the games. I know that for me, in order to do that, I need to find quick outs. I’ve been able to do that and I’ve been feeling very, very good.”
Jonathan Hernández made quick work of the Sox in the ninth, striking out the final two in a perfect inning. Despite the defeat, the Sox remained two games behind first-place Minnesota in the American League Central with the Twins losing to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Pollock, who reached 10 years of MLB service time Thursday. “Long term, usually the right approach and the talent that we have on this team, it usually plays.”