CHICAGO - Robin Ventura did not speak to the media following Toronto's 11-9 victory over the White Sox before 27,190 at U.S. Cellular Field Sunday afternoon.
The White Sox manager wasn't trying to avoid conversation about his most animated ejection as the man in charge -- and second of his career -- coming in the ninth inning of a setback that ended the White Sox five-game winning streak and seven-game winning streak at home. It was made clear before the contest that Ventura had a flight to catch back home immediately after the game's conclusion, so there would be no postgame media session.
Ventura certainly wasn't thrilled with the strike zone of home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, who handed him the early exit. He also probably wasn't overwhelmed by an overall White Sox pitching performance where Hector Santiago's three scoreless innings marked the only unblemished work among five White Sox hurlers.
But Sunday stood as one of a few hiccups in a surprise first-half showing that leaves the White Sox (47-38) three games ahead of the Indians (44-41) and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers (44-42) in the American League Central. To the White Sox credit, down 4-0 in the first, 8-3 in the fifth and 11-7 in the sixth, they never gave up.
"We didn't win the game but we battled," said White Sox right fielder Alex Rios, who homered among his three extra-base hits and tied a career-high with four RBIs against his former team. "That's what got us to where we are at right now, those battles."
"It's still a positive game," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who finished 0-for-3 in the setback. "We swung the bats pretty well. We didn't give up. We battled back. It was a very easy game to kind of give up and say, '(The heck with) it. Let's get into the All-Star break.' But we kept battling. That's what Robin has been preaching."
In an effort to manage Chris Sale's innings total as a first-year starter, the White Sox skipped the southpaw's rotation turn for Sunday's first-half finale against the Blue Jays. That move still left the South Siders with a number of options going into the week.
They could have flip-flopped Dylan Axelrod and Sale on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving Axelrod (0-2) to work on regular rest Tuesday and then again Sunday. A bullpen day also could have been an option, with Santiago having not pitched since June 28 at Yankee Stadium, and Deunte Heath not working at all before he was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte following the loss.
Toronto (43-43) inflicted the most damage upon Axelrod, who gave up seven runs on six hits over three innings, striking out four and walking two working on three days' rest. The game started on a sour note for Axelrod, as he walked Rajai Davis, gave up Colby Rasmus' two-run homer, walked Jose Bautista and then gave up Edwin Encarnacion's two-run homer.
"We definitely have been swinging it as of late," said Davis of Toronto's output. "It's nice when we can swing and outslug our opponents, but it's tough to do that every day."
Neither Axelrod nor the White Sox were second-guessing their starting decision on short rest, despite the outcome.
"Had a bad day. Had a bad day," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Axelrod. "It didn't work out the way we wanted or had it planned. It started with Axe and we weren't that efficient. We had a poor day. It was one of those slugfests that didn't work out in our favor."
Luckily for the White Sox, their hitters were ready to take on Toronto starter Brett Cecil.
Rios launched a three-run homer in the first to cut the lead to one at 4-3. After homers from Kelly Johnson and Jeff Mathis increased the advantage to 8-3, the White Sox pushed across four in the fifth. Alexei Ramirez's two-run triple, giving him 44 RBIs, moved the South Siders within one.
But the Blue Jays scored three more in the sixth to regain control. Rasmus scored one of those runs on Bautista's ground-rule double, which was first touched by a security guard down the left-field line and then by a fan. Ventura argued Reyburn's judgment decision to allow Rasmus to score and third-base umpire Ron Kulpa's fair call on Bautista's grounder, but lost on both ends of the argument.
There's a strong probability that sixth-inning moment still was weighing on Ventura's mind when he let loose verbally on Reyburn after the ejection.
"Well, yeah, he had to let him know," said Rios of Ventura, referring more to the questionable strike zone.
Kevin Youkilis' sixth-inning double and Dayan Viciedo's seventh-inning sacrifice fly brought the White Sox closer, but not close enough. Youkilis has hit in seven straight games and has at least one RBI in all of them.
He will be a major part of the team in the second-half push toward a division title, beginning Friday in Kansas City, which begins a stretch of 16 road games in their first 19 second-half contests. Sunday's loss wasn't exactly the definition of ending on a high note, but it can't sap the overall positive energy from the first 85 games.
"If we play the game like we've been playing, we'll be in a good position," Rios said. "We don't have to worry about anything else."
"I'm happy with what we did as a team in the first half, and now we've got the big challenge laying ahead," Cooper said. "Every year it's not decided until the last week. So we're in a race that nobody thought we were going to be in and we have challenges ahead."