White Sox winning — and having more fun — in first week of September

SEATTLE — When he was managing, Tony La Russa said it over and over again: August and September are where the real fun is.

September is here, but La Russa isn’t because of health issues. Are the White Sox having fun yet?

They finally are, although they know the good times can be fleeting, as they’ve proved time and again during a sloppy, offensively challenged season that saw them take a 68-67 record into their game Tuesday against the Mariners.

The Sox had won five of their last six games and five of seven since bench coach Miguel Cairo assumed acting-manager duties after La Russa left the team last week to undergo medical tests. They say they are having more fun, and whether it’s simply because they’re winning or because of a change of leadership is impossible to know.

We do know this: Sox fans who booed La Russa and called for his firing from the home seats this season weren’t having a good time. Same for those guys holding the SELL THE TEAM sign at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The coaches, broadcasters and blue- and white-collar workers at 35th and Shields all have had more enjoyable seasons. As one team source told the Sun-Times recently, everyone from the players to the coaching staff to the front office felt ”drained” by the climate surrounding a team that had World Series aspirations in spring training, as well as its record.

In the last seven days, however, things have turned for the better, and everyone is asking about a different vibe around the clubhouse.

”We’re having fun,” said veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus, who was acquired Aug. 19. ”The first week that I was here, it was a lot of tense, a lot of guys trying to make things happen. Lately, we’ve been able to just let our talent go out there and compete.”

To say the absence of La Russa, 77, has allowed for that doesn’t seem to correlate. Players have spoken affectionately of him during his absence, complete with ”Win for Tony” talk.

They also talked among themselves, sorted some things out and challenged each other in a players-only meeting Thursday.

”There’s some strong leadership presence in this locker room,” pitcher Michael Kopech said, citing pitchers Lance Lynn and Johnny Cueto, outfielder AJ Pollock and infielder Josh Harrison, among others.

With La Russa not present, Kopech said: ”It made us want to work for him, but we also realized it’s our clubhouse now, and we have to do what’s necessary to get the work done. And we’ve done a good job of that.”

”The energy has been good,” Pollock said. ”Baseball is day-to-day, though. You don’t want to start analyzing four or five games. But it’s been good. If you can do it for a game or two, you keep at it. The good teams get after it every single day, so that’s the goal.”

For most of the season, almost every day has been fraught with some or all of the following: a lack of power, bad baserunning, poor defense, injuries and moments of poor effort. None of it looks good on the players, manager or coaches.

Despite all of it, the Sox had gone from six games out of first place in the American League Central on Aug. 30 to two games out Tuesday. They have four games left against the first-place Guardians, including three at home Sept. 20-22, and nine left against the second-place Twins, including six of their last nine.

And they might make the final push with La Russa back in charge, although the Sox remain mum about the possibility of him returning or when that might happen.

After the series against the Mariners, the Sox have a four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland. Dave Stewart, who pitched for La Russa during their heyday with the A’s and partnered with him and Dave Dombrowski in an effort to bring a major-league team to Nashville, Tennessee, will have his number retired.

La Russa will want to be there, so stay tuned. And keep your eyes on these Sox.

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