White Sox storm back late to steal thunder from Matt Manning's impressive season finale
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.
It could've gone real bad, but manager AJ Hinch 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.
"We needed him to take a step forward," Hinch said Saturday night after the White Sox scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to steal a 5-4 win over the Tigers. "We need him to be a big part of the team moving forward. It was trial by fire a little bit but he took the challenge head on.
"He had some peaks and valleys and he learned a lot."
Manning, predictably, got kicked around by big-league hitters for a while. But as Hinch suspected, the supremely confident former first-round pick 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 and it was a mature and impressive performance — one that might've been unimaginable in June.
"I think I always felt I was able to pitch here," Manning said after he blanked the White Sox on two hits over five innings with a career-best seven strikeouts. "I had to prove it to myself. I've worked my whole life to get to the big leagues and now that's something I can check off my list.
"Now I want to just try to be the best big-leaguer I can be."
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 attacked 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.
"I made it pretty personal for me," he said. "I got beat up a little bit last time and it was mostly my fault. So I tried to make it personal for myself and my last outing. … Just end the season on a high note.
"I think we're building a rivalry with this team. Where they are at is where we want to be. That's what we're coming for."
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.
"There really wasn't a lot of prep, having just faced them," catcher Eric Haase said. "It was more just, here's my best stuff. Just go out on my shield type of deal. But that was the best I've seen him all year. What a way to finish the season."
The Tigers probably threw Manning into the deep end before he truly knew how to swim. But he’s swimming confidently now.
"This year really showed me a lot," said Manning, who finishes with 85⅓ innings and a 5.80 ERA. "It was the first year I had some hard adversity for a whole season. I've dealt with it and it made me better."
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. 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.