CHICAGO -- White Sox rookie Josh Phegley is doing what he can to provide a spark to a struggling team.
The catcher hit his second home run in his third game in Monday's makeup finale of the 2013 crosstown series, but the White Sox bullpen couldn't hold off a late-inning rally from the Cubs in an 8-2 loss at U.S. Cellular Field.
"We've lost a few in a row, and coming in here this is my first home game," Phegley said. "I definitely wanted to get a win for us. The home run was nice, but just like the past one I hit, it'd be a lot better if we'd come out on top."
In a season that hasn't gone the White Sox way, Phegley's historic day in Monday's loss was a consolation to getting swept by the Cubs for the first time since the home-and-away version of the series began in 1999. It took a 39-day hiatus to complete the series, but, in the end, the White Sox dropped all four games to the North Siders.
Phegley did his best to take the focus off the here and now and point to the future. His third-inning shot not only crowned him the first White Sox player to ever homer on the first pitch in his first game at U.S. Cellular Field, but he became the quickest White Sox rookie (dating to 1921) to homer in back-to-back games since Magglio Ordonez in the second and third games of his career in 1999, according to STATS, Inc.
In the fifth, with the game tied and Alexei Ramirez on second with one out, White Sox manager Robin Ventura gave Phegley the green light to swing on a 3-0 pitch -- he grounded out to short -- to see how the youngster handled the situation for future reference.
"You are hoping it was tied and he was coming up late, the way he was playing and the way the game was going," Ventura said.
The White Sox held the game close until the top of the eighth, but left-handed reliever Matt Thornton allowed a two-run double to third baseman Luis Valbuena to start a five-run inning that sealed the sweep.
"It feels good, not for us, but for the fans," Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. "This team has a lot of fans. I think we played good against them."
The White Sox tied the game at 2 in the top of the sixth, when Gordon Beckham became the first White Sox player to steal home since Juan Pierre swiped a run on Oct. 2, 2010. With runners on first and third and two outs, Alex Rios broke for second base and Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro fired a throw that bounced in front of the bag, allowing enough time for Beckham to sprint home.
But the White Sox bullpen couldn't preserve the tie long enough for its offense to mount another threat. After Valbuena's double, White Sox right-hander Nate Jones allowed the inherited runner to score on an RBI single by Dave Sappelt, finalizing Thornton's line with three earned runs and the loss. The Cubs then pushed the lead to five runs on a Cody Ransom two-run, bases-loaded single before Ramon Troncoso finally ended the damage by striking out Anthony Rizzo. Ventura called the eighth inning a backbreaker.
"Well, I mean, people want to make a big deal about it, but it is," Ventura said of losing to the Cubs. "It's at that point where you want to win against anybody. Coming back here and losing this one, you don't like losing to anybody. But again, we got to right the ship."
Ventura pointed to Phegley's energy as the kind of tough-minded example of what he likes to see in a ballplayer, extolling him as the kind of guy that's born to be a catcher. While the rookie's home run and seventh-inning pickoff of Julio Borbon at first counted as two of the team's plays of the game, the reunited duo of Phegley and starter Hector Santiago couldn't cool the Cubs' bats.
Phegley and Santiago played together in the Minors for the last four seasons and grew a close-knit friendship. Santiago even said Phegley has probably caught the most innings for him of anyone in the organization. Still, Soriano managed to get on base five times during the game, Sappelt had four hits and the Cubs had the leadoff man reach base in each of Santiago's last five innings.
"It was just like old times," Phegley said. "He's easy to work with. He's pretty easygoing. He's one of my good friends that I've come up through the system with. It was fun battling out there. We didn't get the result we wanted, but I thought he threw a really good game, kept hitters off balance and put his best foot forward."
Santiago didn't look as sharp as his counterpart, Cubs starter Matt Garza, but the 25-year-old left-hander pitched out of trouble when he had to. The Cubs had two runners reach base in the second, third and fifth innings, but Santiago limited the North Siders to a second-inning run -- on Valbuena's sac fly -- until Soriano's leadoff home run in the sixth inning broke a 1-1 tie.
After the lefty pegged Cody Ransom with a pitch, Santiago, who allowed five hits and two walks and struck out three, was removed after throwing 101 pitches.
"When you get people on, you fall behind in counts, you try to make pitches and keep us in the game," Santiago said. "For the most part, I did it. I tried to make a good pitch there in the last inning, tried to do more than I needed and just hit him."
Outside of the sixth-inning chance, the White Sox couldn't garner much off Garza, who worked deliberately in a seven-inning effort, in which he allowed two runs (one earned) and struck out six.
But Phegley's home run stuck out to Ventura and will provide a lasting inkling of positivity as the White Sox head into their first series against division-leading Detroit with a 9-17 record against the American League Central.
"Yeah, he's not going anywhere," Ventura said of Phegley. "I think tonight it's one of those where he has a good night and it's good to see."
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.