Give White Sox manager Tony La Russa credit for not ordering someone on his pitching staff to stick one in Josh Donaldson’s ribs.
After everything that went down Saturday, with Donaldson taunting Anderson by calling him “Jackie”, Anderson taking offense and a bench-clearning fracas resulting because of it, everyone wondered what the Sox response would be.
Donaldson, after all, had mixed it up with the Sox before.
And so a message pitch from veteran Johnny Cueto in Game 1 of the doubleheader Sunday wouldn’t have surprised anyone.
But there is no good sense in that, no need to put a runner on base who could become a winning run, no need for anyone to risk injury from a pitch or another melee that might have followed.
And La Russa, as 78-year-old old school as they come, gave his team a chance to react instead in the best way possible — on the field.
“You know what, it’s the way we’re going about it,” La Russa said after the Sox won Game 1. “You want to score. Because that’s how you [respond].We went after that game. Guys went after it.”
The Sox then completed a sweep of the team with the best record in baseball in what easily was the best day of their season and probably their best day since Anderson homered against the Yankees in the Field of Dreams game last Aug. 12.
Anderson homered in his final at-bat Sunday night, a three-run shot to the opposite field, which looked a lot like his walk-off homer against the Yankees in the Iowa cornfields. He did not talk to reporters before Game 1, during which he rested, and he declined to talk after Game 2.
Fans were talking at him, though, with boos and calling him Jackie. Anderson’s bat did his talking, and it silenced a Yankees crowd that saw Anderson put his finger to his lips as he rounded third and touched home plate.
“When somebody disrespects him, he should get upset,” La Russa said. “I know I would.”
Meanwhile, the Sox came together at a time when they almost desperately needed to. A World Series contender going into this season in the middle of their championship window, their first month and a half has featured lackluster defense (not unexpected) and bottom of the major leagues hitting (unexpected). But with 78 hits on a 5-3 road trip (nearly 10 hits a game) that started in Kansas City, there are hints of rounding back to form. Next step: Hitting with runners in scoring position.
“We’re working on that,” La Russa said.
Emotionally, there’s no work to be done. Donaldson did that for them, putting a charge into the Sox clubhouse.
What’s more, the sweep of the Yankees was fueled by starting pitching that was and will be the Sox backbone. Cueto was unscored on for the second second time in as many six-inning outings and Kopech (1.29) looked dominant again in his first go-around as a major league. Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease, also in the rotation, could very well be in the Cy Young award chase and Lance Lynn, a regular in the same class, is coming soon. Dallas Keuchel and Vince Velasquez might be getting squeezed out of a group that leaves no room.
So things aren’t as dim for the Sox (21-20), who didn’t expect to be chasing the Twins in the AL Central but are, as they were a few days ago. That’s what being smart and unemotional on the issue of responding to Donaldson — and taking a series from the Yankees — will do.
Channel the emotional energy in the right way, as Anderson did by going 3-for-5 with a three-run homer Sunday night.
“That speaks huge to Tim’s character and what we’re trying to be in this clubhouse,” Kopech said. “And that’s a family.”
RED SOX AT WHITE SOX
Tuesday: Nick Pivetta (2-4, 4.22 ERA) vs. Dylan Cease (4-1, 3.09), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Wednesday: Rich Hill (1-1, 3.90) vs. Lucas Giolito (2-1, 2.84), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Thursday: Michael Wacha (3-0, 1.76) vs. TBD, NBCSCH, 1000-AM