Few things came easy Tuesday night at Wrigley Field for the crosstown foes.
Bone-chilling conditions — a wind chill in the 30s with a constant light rain and a 23 mph wind whipping from left to right field — created a brutal environment that Chicago Cubs and White Sox players and an announced 34,206 fans endured during a 3-1 Sox win.
Rarely was the play entertaining in a grind-it-out game that pitted Sox starter Michael Kopech against a struggling Cubs offense. The Cubs countered with a bullpen game after scheduled starter Drew Smyly went on the bereavement list before the game. Reliever Scott Effross found out he would start after he arrived at the ballpark.
The Sox used a soft tapper down the third-base line from Jake Burger against Effross and a sacrifice bunt by catcher Reese McGuire to plate two runs in the second inning. They tacked on a run in the third when Tim Anderson took right-hander Keegan Thompson deep for his fourth home run.
“I just hit it at the right time and with the right wind, it carried out,” Anderson said. “But I’ll take it for sure.”
The Sox wouldn’t need any more offensive help. Liam Hendriks needed only 10 pitches in a perfect ninth to pick up his sixth save.
“I don’t think I can give enough credit to the two teams,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “There wasn’t one guy that was backing off competing. It was really amazing to see. And it was hard out there for hitters, defenders and pitchers. I can’t give the two teams enough credit for the way they competed.
“I told somebody in the coaching room that was either top-five or top-10 toughest (conditions) because it was unrelenting. Good win for us, but both teams, I’ve got a lot of respect for the Cubs the way they went after it like we did too.”
Six Sox pitchers combined to strike out 12 Cubs, led by Kopech’s five in four shutout innings. Kopech lowered his ERA to 1.17 through five starts.
Kopech got 11 called strikes with his four-seam fastball, and when he threw his curveball, the Cubs failed to make good contact, whiffing twice and watching four of the 13 he threw for called strikes.
Clearly the brutal elements didn’t diminish Kopech’s stuff or effectiveness.
“Personally I like it because I know the hitters don’t want to get jammed, but it’s also tough to get warm every inning when you’re in conditions like that,” Kopech said. “It’s definitely tough on both sides, but I like to think I have the advantage. But I’m sure if you ask most hitters, they want to think they have the advantage too.”
As has occurred too frequently lately, the Cubs had opportunities, but two double plays hurt offensive momentum. They finished 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left seven on base.
The Cubs bullpen came in leading the majors with 115 strikeouts and 11.33 strikeouts per nine innings. However, the five Cubs relievers — including Effross — combined for only three strikeouts.
An athletic play by shortstop Nico Hoerner helped put away the Sox’s bases-loaded threat in the fifth. Hoerner, ranging in the hole, fielded a grounder off José Abreu’s bat and threw across his body to second base to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. The Sox wasted a chance to build on their three-run lead after Thompson hit Josh Harrison and Anderson to start the inning.
The Cubs generally played well behind their relievers, notably Hoerner’s play and a jump throw second baseman Nick Madrigal made up the middle to get the runner at first. But third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s throwing error to begin the second sparked the Sox’s two-run inning. Both runs were unearned and charged to Effross.
Ross complimented Hoerner’s awareness on the double play between knowing Abreu’s speed going down the first-base line and getting his body positioned for an on-target throw to Madrigal at second. Madrigal credited Hoerner for giving him a perfectly located ball so he could complete the turn and throw to first.
“He makes my job a lot easier, knowing he’s going to do his part on the other side of me,” Madrigal said. “I feel like we have a good connection spacing out in the infield and I feel like we’ve been playing together for a lot of years. Realistically, it’s only our first year together at this point, so I’m really excited to see what we can do as time goes on.”
Hoerner was also responsible for the Cubs’ lone run, doubling home Ian Happ with two outs in the sixth. Happ and Jason Heyward were the only Cubs to reach base more than once, each reaching on a walk and a single.
“It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played in.” Madrigal said. “Just the constant rain, wet ball, throwing it. Even hitting, there’s rain in your face. But everyone was playing in the same conditions. It was definitely frustrating. We just couldn’t break through there at the end.”