MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Abreu, who plays through everything, thought he might not be able to play through this one.
“I thought it was fractured,” Abreu said of a pitch that hit him on the side of his left knee in a game against the Mariners June 27.
Abreu hit the ground, pounding the grass in pain.
“My leg went numb.”
Fans expected the worst — it’s been that kind of year for injuries — but Abreu was in the lineup two days later. It’s the Abreu way.
Play through everything.
“My family,” he said through translator Billy Russo, explaining what motivates him to play hurt. “They are my strength. I come here every day here to do my best and to honor them and I know they have my back, they support me. It doesn’t matter if I’m in pain or not, soreness or not, I have to be there for them. My mom, my wife, my sons, they are my everything.”
The reigning MVP did miss the Sox’ last series in Minnesota after a violent collision with the Royals’ Hunter Dozier near the first base line. He has missed six games after playing all 60 last season and 159 in 2019.
After batting .182/.265/.307 with two homers in June, Abreu is 9-for-26 with two homers and nine RBI in the first six games of July. He collected his 63rd RBI, which ranks fourth in the AL, nine behind RBI Rafael Devers, with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly in the Sox’ 4-1 win over the Twins Tuesday and is aiming to be the first player since Cecil Fielder (1990-92) to lead the AL in RBI three consecutive years.
Having had his first taste of a winning season and the postseason in 2020, Abreu is soaking in first place.
“Winning is one of the sweetest things that you can have as an athlete,” Abreu said.
This was one of the sweetest wins of the season for the Sox, who learned before the game that catcher Yasmani Grandal would be lost to injury for at least a month. Zack Collins, the new starter, drove in the first two runs with a single, the only hit against Jose Berrios, and later doubled and scored on Adam Eaton’s single.
“I’ve been ready for it,” Collins said of elevated role.
Michael Kopech pitched a scoreless seventh and a well-rested Liam Hendriks struck out four in two perfect innings of relief for his 22nd save.
Hendriks raised his arms after defensive replacement Billy Hamilton made a running catch near the wall with with a head first slide into a rained-soaked warning track.
“That might be the top one, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said when asked where the catch ranked among plays he’s made in his career.
In large part because of starting pitching — Carlos Rodon gave them another strong start in his last one before the All-Star Game next Tuesday with six innings of one-run ball, finishing with a flurry of 99- and 100-mph pitches — the Sox have held their spot atop the AL Central despite an onslaught of injuries.
“You have to just keep moving forward,” Abreu said.
Rodon (2.31 ERA) struck out eight and didn’t allow walk, the only run against him coming on Alex Kirilloff’s RBI single in the sixth. That followed a single by Luis Arraez that glanced off Rodon’s glove and a ball that center fielder Brian Goodwin lost in a misty sky, falling for a single.
Rodon struck out Ryan Jeffers and Max Kepler to end his outing, limiting Twins damage to one run.
“He can rise to the occasion and make clutch pitches,” manager Tony La Russa said.
The Sox snapped a three-game losing streak. As the 34-year-old Abreu says, winning trumps everything.
“That’s what you work for,” he said. “It’s something I don’t know how to describe. If you are winning, it doesn’t matter. There’s no age that can stop it, there’s no pain. It’s nothing. You’re winning.”