For Jose Abreu, the 2021 season was a rough one.
It ended badly Tuesday, and he took a physical beating from February to October.
“This was the most difficult year of my career with all the things that I had to pass through,” Abreu said through translator Billy Russo on Wednesday, a day after the White Sox were eliminated by the Astros in the American League Division Series.
There was a COVID scare on the first day of spring training for the reigning MVP and a virus that threatened to sideline him in Game 1 of the ALDS, which the Astros won convincingly in four games. In between, a violent collision near the first base line with Hunter Dozier on May 14 and an ankle injury May 16 suffered on a slide into home for the game-winning run on a wild pitch.
Abreu got hit by a pitch 22 times during the regular season, seven more than his previous career high, and he got plunked on the arm one last time in his final plate appearance of the year Tuesday, in a 10-1 loss which left the Astros celebrating on the Sox’ home field.
One of the hit by pitches led to a bench-clearing scuffle in Detroit in which Abreu, after watching video of the skirmish, was moved to apologize for his actions. He said it was a bad look, especially for kids who look up to him.
But seeing manager Tony La Russa have his back was appreciated, support taken to an extreme Tuesday after Kendall Graveman’s fastball left another bruise on the 6-3, 235-pounder. La Russa vented on the field at length and after the game and called it intentional.
La Russa was reacting in a way Abreu would have if one of his children was put in harm’s way, he said.
“Tony was trying to protect me,” Abreu said. “He’s always trying to protect us.”
Abreu didn’t go so far as to say there was intent.
“I don’t have anything else to comment about it,” he said. “We got eliminated. That’s a point.”
Which is to say the loss, “to a good team with a lot of talent that was just better than us,” left an even bigger mark.
To which Abreu will react in the only way he knows how: Get back to work and take no shortcuts.
“I truly believe that we have to keep working in the offseason and sooner rather than later,” he said. “If you work harder now, the results we all want as a White Sox family are going to be there. A World Series title is -going to be there, but we need to keep working, and keep working hard.”
Abreu, who turns 35 on Jan. 29 and enters the final year of a three-year, $50 million contract extension, hit 30 homers and drove in 117 runs, underscoring his value as a run producer once again. His numbers declined from the 60-game abbreviated 2020 season in which he won the AL MVP, however, from a .317/.370/.617 slash line with a .987 OPS to .261/.351/.481 with an .831 OPS. He also hit into an AL high 28 double plays.
The 2021 highlight, he said, was when the Sox clinched their first division title in his eighth season. When the season came to its disappointing end, there was no farewell speech to teammates from one the team’s primary -veteran leaders in the clubhouse and perennial RBI leader. Just well wishes.
“I’m just going home to rest and get ready for next season,” Abreu said.
“We just need to start from scratch next season. I can’t say what the front office needs to do, because that’s not my job.
“The Houston Astros were better than us. They took better at-bats. They had some clutch hits in very important situations.”