It was hard to say which was a better sight, Carlos Rodon up and dealing again or Cesar Hernandez, Luis Robert and Jose Abreu giving the All-Star left-hander a comfortable lead with an early home run blitz.
The Sox’ offensive attack, sketchy at best and missing in action at worst for most of a seven-game road trip against the Rays and Blue Jays, packed a punch with four home runs on the last day Thursday, helping the Sox defeat the Jays 10-7 to claim a four-game series split and a 3-4 trip, which, all things considered, could have been worse.
With Rodon pitching five innings in his first start in 19 days, the trip finished happily as the Sox head into what figures to be a fun-filled weekend in the city series against the Cubs. It would have been better if not for a five-run Jays blitz against right-hander Michael Kopech in the sixth inning, but Ryan Tepera, Garrett Crochet and Craig Kimbrel blanked the Jays’ tough lineup in the last three innings. Kimbrel earned his first save in a White Sox uniform.
With the Pirates following the Cubs in a two-game series that takes them into September, the Sox start the home stretch to an almost-guaranteed October against softer teams than they faced in their just completed run against the Yankees, Athletics, Rays and Jays. The Sox (74-55) went 7-7 against that foursome of postseason contenders.
“People have to beat us, we’re going to be a team to beat,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
The Sox own a nine-game lead in the AL Central but will need Rodon in October, and to see him looking fresh after an 18-day break for his fatigued shoulder was reassuring.
“He was outstanding, in the form he’s been all year,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It was very encouraging. Can’t wait to get him back out there.”
Hernandez, 2-for-15 in his previous four games, started things offensively with a homer against left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu in the second and made three standout plays at second base. Robert and Abreu homered in the third, Leury Garcia doubled in two runs in the fourth and Anderson scored Garcia with a single in the fifth.
Catcher Seby Zavala doubled in a run in the sixth and Anderson knocked him in with a single to make it 9-2, and this one had the look of a laugher.
“They pitched a heckuva game last night, so I think it was mandatory that we wanted to go out and whup em,” Anderson said. “And you see how we jumped out on them. It was mandatory to get a win.”
But Kopech got tagged despite being ahead in the count and touching 101 mph when he left some sliders up in the zone, including one to Marcus Semien who homered for the second time.
“He threw a couple good ones and made some mistakes but I thought he had one of his best fastballs of the season,” La Russa said. “The ball was just jumping. He got ahead of hitters but he just hung a couple and hitters hit them. He probably could have lived with his fastball but he got too much of the plate with his slider.”
Rodon, meanwhile, improved to 10-5 with a 2.43 ERA, following Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito with another good start in the series.
“There were some limits as far as pitch count,” said Rodon, who threw 67 pitches, 46 for strikes and got nine swings and misses.
“I was shooting for six [innings] and I got through five. I felt pretty good today. There were some pitches I’d like to come back, but they make it hard, they put the ball in the play.”