CHICAGO -- The final 66 games of the White Sox 2014 season probably aren't about playoff contention.
Not at 9 1/2 games out of the American League Central lead and chasing down five teams for the second AL Wild Card slot even after Friday's 3-2 victory over the Astros before 28,777 on Rat Pack Night at U.S. Cellular Field. The theme for this post All-Star Game competition centers on good things happening and moving into the 2015 phase of their ongoing reshaping.
And Friday's contest had plenty of those positives.
With the game tied at 2 in the seventh and Alejandro De Aza on second after a single and stolen base, Flowers stepped to the plate mired in an exhausting 12-for-117 slump. He had felt good over the last 10 games, although the results weren't there, and had coaxed an inning-extending walk in the fifth off of Houston starter Scott Feldman (4-7).
Flowers worked the count to 3-1 before ripping a sinker into left-center to score the game-winning run. As media gathered around his locker after the White Sox (46-51) improved to 10-7 in their last 17 games, a smiling Flowers produced, "It's nice to see you all back," as his opening line.
"It was good timing," Flowers said. "It was nice to kind of see a lot of work we've been doing pay dividends, especially in a situation like that."
"That's a big one to get it started," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Flowers' hit.
Houston (40-57) scored its two runs in the second inning off of Jose Quintana by virtue of singles from Matt Dominguez and Jon Singleton and Robbie Grossman's ground out. Sandwiched in between was an error by right fielder Dayan Viciedo on Singleton's line drive that allowed Dominguez to score and allowed Singleton to go to third.
Viciedo got those runs back in the sixth. With two outs and Jose Abreu on first, just three batters after Feldman took an Alexei Ramirez line drive off of his back side that turned into an out, Viciedo clubbed the first pitch for home run No. 12.
"You start seeing at-bats in the middle and later in the game that guys are grinding through it," Ventura said. "You are able to fight back and get those runs."
Through two innings, Quintana had thrown 55 pitches.
Ventura and Flowers credited the Astros for a good offensive approach, with Ventura adding that it seemed as if 50 of Quintana's pitches were fouled off. But Quintana stuck around through five innings and 106 pitches, striking out eight and fighting through his Major League-high 35th no-decision since 2012.
Quintana fought his delivery during his first start since July 10, but fought enough to give the White Sox a chance. The southpaw has allowed five earned runs over his last 27 2/3 innings.
"His pitches were good location, good spin, good movement," said Houston second baseman Jose Altuve of Quintana. "That was the key for him today. He's got really good stuff. Quintana threw a really, really good game; amazing."
During that second inning, the Astros put four men on base via three hits and one walk. They had one other baserunner over the other eight innings combined. Quintana, Daniel Webb (5-2), Ronald Belisario and Zach Putnam (second save) combined to strike out 14 and set down the final 22 in order.
Those 12 straight retired from a bullpen with a 5.87 ERA over the last six games stood as the most important development of all from Friday night.
"When you start getting pitching like that, you have a chance to win a lot of games," Ventura said.
Putnam believes the All-Star break came at a perfect time for the bullpen.
"Yeah, everybody was just dragging," Putnam said. "Some guys had physical stuff going on, other guys just kind of mental tiredness. The four days couldn't come at a better time. Everybody kind of got recharged and hit the ground running."
One game does not close to a run make. But it was a positive start for the White Sox in a second half that they hope is full of these uplifting developments.
"Get the second half here [off] on the right foot and get it going," Putnam said. "It was a good way to get back in the second half for sure and get some momentum going forward."
"Players feel refreshed and energized," Ventura said. "You are looking for good things to happen."