HOUSTON — When first baseman Jose Abreu did not travel with the team Tuesday for Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the “why can’t we have nice things?” question asked so many times during an injury-riddled White Sox season popped up yet again.
Abreu was dealing with flu-like symptoms, and rumors were swirling. In the COVID-19 age, there was genuine worry.
Why the Sox? Why now, before the biggest game of the season?
But then the Sox announced, just as manager Tony La Russa was sitting down for his news conference Wednesday afternoon, that Abreu had been ailing in recent days but was “feeling better, and his symptoms are improving. Multiple tests have confirmed that his illness is not COVID-related. A decision on his availability for Game 1 of the ALDS will be made tomorrow.”
“To know that he’s on his way is a big boost for the team,” Game 1 starter Lance Lynn said.
To know Abreu is to not bet against him, although he might need some fluids to help him replenish his strength and could be relegated to designated-hitter duty. Abreu, after all, has led the team in games played and has a reputation for playing hurt and resisting days off.
“We all know how stubborn he is, and you know he’s not going to want to sit out,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
“He’s kind of the heart and soul of the team,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “He plays through anything.”
Abreu did not object to sitting out the season finale Sunday against the Tigers because he wasn’t feeling well, but it wasn’t thought to be serious. He came to the team’s workout at Guaranteed Rate Field in rough shape, and the Sox worked out without him Wednesday afternoon. But the general feeling was that a player who shook off getting hit by a pitch 22 times and fouling countless pitches off his knee, shin, ankles and feet would answer the bell for the fourth postseason game of his career.
“He got to the workout [in Chicago], and he had been through a tough night with fever,” La Russa said. “And now we’re all brimming with happiness and excitement because his fever broke, and he passed the test.”
The reigning AL most valuable player, Abreu saw his OPS dip from .987 to .831 this season, but he hit his 30th home run Friday, joining Frank Thomas (eight) and Paul Konerko (five) as the only Sox players with five career seasons with 30 homers and 100 RBI. He drove in 117 runs in 2021.
“He’s not only a big part of that clubhouse but a big piece in the lineup who kind of stabilizes everything,” Hendriks said. “He’s going to drive in the runs. It’s very rare you find a guy like that who has been so good year in and year out at driving in runs. Even when he’s slumping a little bit, he’s able to drive guys in. That’s very impressive.”
La Russa stopped short of penciling Abreu into his lineup, though.
“We’ll see what his strength level is [Thursday],” La Russa said.
“We’ve had several discussions in the clubhouse about how stubborn he’s going to be. Hand on the baseball bible, I feel for certain if he’s not in there tomorrow, he’ll be in there Friday.”
Just knowing Abreu was en route to Houston was “a huge boost for us,” Hendriks said.
The Sox lost Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal for extended periods on the injured list, and Anderson was limited to 123 games because of various hamstring problems. Only in recent weeks has their top lineup played together consistently.
Robert and Jimenez did not play in the seven games against the Astros, who won five of them.
“At this point, our record against them means nothing because it’s straight ahead now, and the record’s 0-0,” Anderson said. “So we’ll just see what happens. To be able to get Luis and Eloy back, it definitely says a lot about our lineup. Those guys are going to be ready to compete, for sure.”
Stay tuned. But don’t bet against him.