CLEVELAND — They didn’t sprint in from the outfield, dash across the diamond or spill out of the dugout and bullpen in a hurly-burly blur.
They didn’t even jog.
Let the record show that when White Sox closer Liam Hendriks struck out the Indians’ Myles Straw here Thursday to nail down a 7-2 victory that clinched a division title, the American League Central champs barely moved a muscle. Hendriks went a little nuts, sure, but he rolls out of bed like that.
“I really like the fact that I was able to blow someone’s doors off for the final out,” he said.
But the rest of the team? They kind of just ambled.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal met Hendriks halfway between the mound and the plate, where a routine congratulatory exchange got the job done. Middle infielders Tim Anderson and Cesar Hernandez had a brief moment by second base. Corner infielders Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu shuffled toward each other like college buddies at a 50th reunion. The dugout emptied as if in slow motion. Outfielders and relievers straggled in like it was any old day at all.
By God, it was perfect.
The Sox have qualified for a second straight postseason for the first time ever. They have their first division title since 2008. They have all the reason in the world to cut loose … a few weeks from now when they’ve clinched a divisional series. They can skitter around the field deliriously … when they’ve won the AL pennant. As for the World Series, well, let the final out then lead to the mother of all dogpiles.
But the 2021 Sox were too obviously good, too talented, too stacked not to get to this point. They haven’t done a dang thing yet.
“We all understand this is just a start,” Anderson said. “We’re going to celebrate this and put it behind us and keep it moving, keep pushing, and hopefully we can do something special.”
To get to all that, though, the Sox had to bring themselves to a boil so they could win a game on this wet, cold, gray road trip that sure has an October feel — weather-wise, not drama-wise — to it.
Enter Anderson, who put the Sox on the board and gave them a spark with a leadoff homer against Aaron Civale. The player manager Tony La Russa refers to as the team’s “ignitor” traded customary hand slaps with first-base coach Daryl Boston and third-base coach Joe McEwing. He was greeted at home plate by No. 2 hitter Moncada and near the on-deck circle by Abreu. He was met at the top step of the dugout by La Russa and then traveled the length of the dugout, slapping and bumping through a phalanx of fired-up teammates and coaches until there was only Billy Hamilton left to greet him. They hugged.
Sox emotion poured into the second inning, when Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez bombed away with back-to-back homers to left. In the dugout, Anderson danced. Back at the plate with two on, Anderson hit another one out to right. This time, he slide-stepped his way from third to home, facing the dugout and pointing at his teammates with both hands.
“We wanted it more than them,” he said, “and it showed.”
Now, it has to keep showing.
“Here we are, the division champs,” La Russa said.
“One thing you experience over the years: winning never gets old. It gets better. It just gets better because you appreciate more what everybody had to do to get here. And that’s the message for all the guys, [especially] the first-timers: It gets better. In fact, it can get better this year.”