Both longtime White Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and manager Tony La Russa praised Joe West before he was set to break the all-time record for games worked Tuesday night.
Behind home plate, West was scheduled to work his 5,376th game to break the mark set by Bill Klem. A well-known figure and frequent target of fans on social media, West has a divisive reputation.
As for Harrelson, he and West “had problems there for about 30 years” but have been friends for around a decade. Harrelson planned to attend Tuesday night’s game but didn’t because of flu-like side effects from a recent COVID-19 vaccination.
West, Harrelson said, is one of two umpires he’s respected the most, with Hall of Famer Nestor Chylak being the other. And if Harrelson could pick one umpire to be behind the plate for Game 7 of the World Series, he said it would be West.
According to Harrelson, there are two keys to winning a West game. One of them is to catch the ball and not give away extra outs, and the other is specific to the record-setting umpire.
“The second rule is: don’t mess with Joe West,” Harrelson said.
La Russa, meanwhile, said West is very consistent. He understands emotion is part of the game and lets people have outbursts, though he doesn’t allow them to go too far.
“But you couldn’t disrespect the game,” La Russa said. “Joe was going to make sure the game was played correctly. And he had a flair and he’s the perfect guy to set the record because he represents a lot of what an umpire should be.”
Pitcher Michael Kopech continued his strong start to the season Monday, striking out three over two scoreless innings to finish off the 5-1 Sox victory and lower his ERA to 1.78. And whether he’s started or pitched in relief, Kopech has come through and shown why the Sox acquired him from Boston along with Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale.
On Monday, the fire-balling Kopech even got two strikeouts on changeups, a pitch he’s been working on improving.
“There’s a lot of things that keep evolving with him. It’s a huge arm, it’s one of the best fastballs in the game,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said. “But anything that’s thrown his way, he’s done a great job and handled every single pressure situation. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Katz said the Sox will continue to be careful with Kopech after he missed the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery and opted out of 2020. The team is monitoring Kopech and making sure he has a workload he can handle, but it doesn’t sound like he has a set innings limit.
“There’s no magic number that we’re saying, ‘Once he gets to this, he’s done,'” Katz said. “It’s just a matter of kind of respecting what his body is saying to be able to get through this.”
Outfielder Adam Engel (right hamstring) began his rehab assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Charlotte against Norfolk. Engel, who hasn’t appeared in a big-league game this season, led off and was the Knights’ designated hitter.