OAKLAND, Calif. — The White Sox were 6-3 with acting manager Miguel Cairo at the helm during Tony La Russa’s absence going into the opener of a four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland Thursday night.
In other words, if La Russa returns soon after undergoing tests for medical issues, he might find his team in better shape than when he left it before a 9-7 home loss to the Royals last week.
The Sox then won six of their next eight games and are enjoying one of their better runs at a most crucial time, with 25 games left and two games to make up on the first place Cleveland Guardians.
The difference of late?
“The energy,” veteran slugger Jose Abreu told the Sun-Times through translator Billy Russo. “It’s all about the energy right now. The energy we have now, we didn’t have it for most of the season. The guys are doing their job, everybody is motivated. And it’s showing up on the field.”
La Russa wants to be on the field in Oakland when the Sox play the A’s Sunday in the last game of the series. The A’s are retiring former pitcher Dave Stewart’s number in a special ceremony that was planned for when the Sox and La Russa were in Oakland, where he managed the A’s from 1986-95.
La Russa also hopes to return to the dugout as early as next week, per a New York Post report, and “is going to be OK” according to friends, although the Sox say “nothing has changed” about La Russa’s status.
“He is continuing to undergo tests and until we hear outcomes from those tests, not sure anyone knows plans or timings,” a Sox spokesman said.
If nothing changes and Cairo stays in charge, that will be OK with players who say their focus is on winning regardless of whether the 77-year-old Hall of Fame manager La Russa is in charge or the 48-year-old bench coach Cairo, who is enjoying his first go at managing.
“I love the challenge. I love the adrenaline. I love the butterflies that you get during the game,” Cairo said. “Just if he comes back, he’s the manager, I’m the bench coach.”
To what degree Cairo is responsible for the 6-3 stretch and a better clubhouse vibe is the million dollar question.
“I don’t know, honestly,” Abreu said. “I can’t blame Tony. It’s about the players. If he comes back, we have to play hard, we have to give it the same energy. We’ll see what happens.”
Reliever Kendall Graveman said “a sense of urgency of ‘hey, it’s now or never’ ” in the last 10 days made a difference.
“Sometimes you get your back pinned against the wall and you see what you’re made of,” Graveman said.
As for the Cairo effect, “I just know we’re winning baseball games,” Graveman said.
And if La Russa returns, “we’ll see what happens when that time comes,” Graveman said. “I haven’t heard anything. I don’t know.”
The mission, Gavin Sheets, will be the same — get to the playoffs.
“Whoever is leading us,” Sheets said. “Obviously it would be great to see [La Russa] back but if Miggy is the manager we’re going to do the same thing with Miggy and keep it going. We saw the report. The No. 1 thing is we’re happy he’s healthy enough to do it. In terms of us, the goal is the same.”
Players know La Russa’s pride and desire to win are large and know he wants to come back, but they share concerns he’ll try to come back too soon for his own good.
“It’s tough having Tony out, it’s scary when someone goes down for health issues,” Andrew Vaughn said.
“If he comes back, we’re going to be here,” Abreu said. “This is his home and he’ll be welcome.”