CLEVELAND — There are wins the White Sox will put a star next to as they slog through the 162 games that take them to a postseason they fully intend to make.
Their 8-6 victory in eight innings in Game 1 of a doubleheader Monday against the Indians, perhaps their biggest worry in the AL Central, was one of those.
“Any team that gets to the World Series, you kind of look back at wins like this where you don’t really want to be denied,” said right fielder Adam Eaton, who returned after resting his sore legs for the last four games by launching a two-run homer in the eighth. “You kind of come to the park wanting to win, expecting to win and when you get in those one-run ballgames, you just know someone’s going to do it.”
There’s usually a good chance Jose Abreu will be that someone, and the reigning MVP collected his league leading 46th RBI with a line sacrifice fly to left field in the eighth, breaking a tie with free runner Billy Hamilton on third base. Facing righty James Karinchak, one of the toughest relievers in baseball in the first two months of the season — and in the 5 o’clock shadows at Progressive Field — Abreu delivered on an eight-pitch of an at-bat manager Tony La Russa raved about.
“That at-bat by Abreu, it would be tied for first for one of the greatest I’ve seen against a pitcher of that caliber in that kind of situation,” La Russa said. “I’ll never forget it. The fans will never forget it.
“The toughness and concentration and the ability to put it into play someplace. There are really good RBI guys and there are great RBI guys. Abreu is great.”
Eaton followed with a homer, and Aaron Bummer pitched the eighth for his first save before the Indians beat prospect Jimmy Lambert in a 3-1 victory in Game 2. The Sox were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position against starter Cal Quantrill and four relievers who pitched scoreless ball in the nightcap.
The Game 1 “that was a whole eight innings of character,” as La Russa described it, prevented the Sox from getting swept by a team they want to keep in their rearview mirror.
“So much happened in that game,” La Russa said, including Abreu starting a double play and running on a 3-2 pitch with Yermin Mercedes to keep the Sox out of a double play and more when second baseman Cesar Hernandez’s backhand flip bounced off his helmet, allowing a run to score in the fifth.
So much of the season is left, reminded Yoan Moncada, who endured losing seasons when he broke in with the team and is taking nothing for granted despite the Sox’ favored status in their division.
The loss in the nightcap, in which the Sox were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, was their second defeat in nine games since getting swept by the Yankees.
“We have a good team. But we can’t be too complacent,” said Moncada, who had three hits including a double in the doubleheader and is the team’s leader with 2.4 wins above replacement per Baseball Reference. “We have to keep working hard, keep doing our thing because it’s a long season and we want to win it all. It was good what happened last weekend [sweeping the Orioles in four games], but there’s still plenty of season in front of us. We have to keep grinding.”
The Sox are 33-21 and lead the Indians through the first two months of the season. They were 14-11 in April and 19-10 in May.
It’s on to June, with four months of the regular season left.
“It’s very early still,” said Eaton, who played on a World Series winner with the Nationals. “Anybody can do it for two months, you’ve to to do it for six-plus.”