White Sox manager Robin Ventura refused to anoint one pitcher as the team’s closer all spring and told reporters at the start of the regular season that they’d have to “wait and see” who gets the nod in the ninth-inning when the first save opportunity arises.
Well, the secret is finally out.
Hector Santiago, a 24-year-old left-hander from Newark, New Jersey, was called on to finish off Saturday’s 4-3 victory over the Rangers and did so effectively, tossing 11 pitches in a perfect ninth.
After the game Ventura was asked if Santiago is officially the team’s new primary saves man. According to Scot Gregor of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, the rookie manager responded: “He is.”
Santiago registered an underwhelming 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 74/39 K/BB ratio across 83 1/3 innings last season at Double-A Birmingham, but the White Sox like his screwball and clearly believe in his confidence. If he falls apart, look for Addison Reed to get the next shot. Matt Thornton is also an option.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.