Jake Burger told himself to be smooth and calm when he hit for Reese McGuire in the eighth inning Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Chicago White Sox trailed by a run but had a runner on first with one out.
“Don’t try to do too much,” Burger said. “And fortunately I got a pitch up in the zone that I could do something with.”
Burger delivered the clutch hit the Sox have been desperately looking for, driving Jalen Beeks’ changeup over the center-field wall for a go-ahead two-run homer.
Burger’s home run was the difference as the Sox snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory in front of 19,452 at Tropicana Field.
“That felt good,” Burger said. “It was a special one, for sure. I’ll always remember that one.”
It was the team’s first go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning or later since Adam Eaton hit one April 11, 2021, against the Kansas City Royals.
“I told him he’s not starting the rest of the year — he’s going to be a pinch hitter,” Sox manager Tony La Russa joked. “Until tomorrow.
“He has a flair, doesn’t he? When he hits them, they’re important ones.”
The Sox entered the eighth trailing 2-0. Pinch hitter Adam Engel reached on a double to shallow left on a ball that was just out of the reach of Rays shortstop Vidal Bruján. Engel scored on a one-out single by Danny Mendick.
The Sox called on the right-handed-hitting Burger to hit for the left-handed-hitting McGuire. The Rays replaced lefty reliever Brooks Raley with another lefty in Beeks. Right-handed batters were hitting just .190 against Beeks.
Burger connected on Beeks’ second pitch to put the Sox ahead.
“I was sprinting out of the box,” Burger said. “Everybody was like, ‘Dude, you didn’t know you got that?’ Maybe, but I want to make sure if it’s a double in the gap, I’ve got to get going.
“Kind of floating around the bases a little bit and it felt really good. Smiling the entire time and Mendick looking back at me rounding second base, getting me all fired up. It was fun.”
The way things have gone recently for the Sox, closing out the game wouldn’t be easy.
The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth. Reliever Kendall Graveman got Isaac Paredes to hit a slow grounder to short. Mendick’s throw to first made it just in time to end the inning.
“I knew he was going to throw a slider, so I kind of had a feeling he was going to be a little bit out in front,” Mendick said. “And as soon as I saw the swing, I started going in. It was a close play — he was getting down the line — but (we) practice those, right? Got to get it done.”
A video review confirmed the call.
“To be honest I thought I had him,” Mendick said. “I was pretty confident when they were doing the review. They showed on the big screen he was out, and that was definitely a sigh of relief.”
Liam Hendriks retired the side in order in the ninth for his 15th save.
Despite issuing seven walks, starter Dylan Cease kept the Sox in the game. He allowed two unearned runs on one hit with five strikeouts in 4⅔ innings.
“It was pretty ugly but it was good enough,” Cease said. “Every once in a while something like that will happen. It’s just about not giving in.”
Both Rays runs came in the fifth.
Cease nearly escaped a jam in the inning when Yandy Díaz grounded to first with two outs. The ball appeared to have some spin on it and kicked away from José Abreu.
Paredes, who reached on a walk, raced home on the error for the game’s first run. Cease exited, and the Rays tacked on the second unearned run when Ji-Man Choi beat the shift and singled against reliever Aaron Bummer.
“You’re thinking it’s not possible, ball off the end of (Díaz’s) bat, spins off (Abreu’s) glove and that’s a run,” La Russa said. “And then he did a good job putting the ball in play for that second run and you say, ‘Man, come on.’ But we found a way to overcome it.”
Kyle Crick (2-0) pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings and got the win when the Sox broke through in the eighth.
“We needed a win, but a 10-run win would be nice,” La Russa joked. “It’s how we played the first four games of the road trip, came up short. This time we didn’t. A testament to never give in, never give up.”