Jose Abreu said he had reached his limit when he was hit by a pitch Monday in Detroit.
It was the 21st time this season, and while Alex Lange’s 0-2 fastball was nowhere near his head when it got his unpadded left elbow square, adding yet one more bruise to the Sox slugger’s arm, he reached a tipping point.
“If you get hit badly, your career can end,” Abreu said through translator Billy Russo said Tuesday. “Your life can end.”
What this one started was a display of anger by Abreu never seen before, but not until he slid hard into second base moments later and words were exchanged. Benches cleared, and Abreu had to be restrained.
Manager Tony La Russa’s beef with his players getting hit — the Sox were hit 76 times compared to opponents hit by Sox pitchers 50 times Monday — is that too many pitchers rely on velocity and not command and therefore become dangerous when they pitch inside.
“It’s become more of a problem with young guys getting in the big leagues ahead of time, really relying on their stuff,” La Russa said. “There is a difference between pitching in and throwing in. Throwing in means you’re aiming it there but you’re not really sure where it goes. … That’s why the answer, ‘Hey we hit him but we were just trying to get the ball up and in we didn’t mean to hit him,’ well, if you don’t have command then you’re being irresponsible. That’s really the key.”
When order restored, a Sox team that wears FAMILY across its chests on gameday T-shirts jumped on a plane for home, bound together. It also might have added an edge to a team that wants to keep one in the week and half leading to the postseason.
La Russa called the win one of his top moments of the season.
“I think he was referring to how strong and unified we are as a team,” Abreu said. “It took us at that moment when I slid into second and the benches cleared, it was a really nice moment even for me to see the support of my teammates, everybody on the field trying to protect me. That meant a lot. It wasn’t the best moment or the best action, but that’s something that made me feel good and showed everybody how unified we are.”
Abreu, in fact, seemed embarrassed by his actions after seeing replays.
“That’s not the kind of action you want to see from a baseball player, especially since a lot of kids follow me,” Abreu said. “I don’t want them to think that’s how you play the game. It’s not.”
But Abreu couldn’t contain himself “because even when he hit me, he didn’t apologize or say anything. And that’s fine, but then I slid into second base and he started chirping. That’s not good, you don’t do that. You didn’t [apologize] and then you start talking to me? That’s not the way that we play baseball.”
Meanwhile, Abreu is playing baseball in pursuit of a few individual feats in the final week. With 113 RBI, he trailed Royals catcher Salvador by four RBI for the American League lead. He is looking to join Cecil Fielder (1990-92) as the only players to lead the AL in RBI in three straight seasons.
And he needed one home run to join Frank Thomas (eight) and Paul Konerko (five) as the only players in Sox history with five seasons with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. The numbers, though, take a backseat to “being at peace with myself.”
“Enjoy the game and keep working hard to bring joy to the fans and to the White Sox,” Abreu said. “Be ready for the playoffs. To be in for the second straight year is a huge accomplishment. The only prediction I can make is we won’t quit and we won’t rest. We are going to do our best.”