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Hawk Harrelson, Tony La Russa praise Joe West before umpire breaks all-time record

West, who was behind home plate for Tuesday’s Cardinals-Sox matchup, umpired his 5,376th game to break the mark set by Bill Klem.

Joe West worked his 5,376th game to set the all-time record for games umpired.
AP Photos

Longtime White Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Sox manager Tony La Russa praised umpire Joe West before he broke the record for games Tuesday night.

Behind the plate, West worked his 5,376th game to break the mark held by Bill Klem. A well-known figure and frequent target of fans on social media, West has a divisive reputation.

As for Harrelson, he and West “had problems there for about 30 years” but have been friends for a decade. Harrelson planned to attend the game but couldn’t make it because of flu-like side effects from a recent COVID-19 vaccination.

West, Harrelson said, is one of two umpires he has respected the most, with Hall of Famer Nestor Chylak being the other. And if Harrelson could pick one umpire to be behind the plate for Game 7 of the World Series, he said it would be West.

According to Harrelson, there are two keys to winning a West game. One of them is to catch the ball and not give away extra outs, and the other is specific to the record-setting umpire.

“The second rule is: Don’t mess with Joe West,” Harrelson said.

La Russa, meanwhile, said West is very consistent. He understands emotion is part of the game and lets people have outbursts, though he doesn’t allow them to go too far.

“But you couldn’t disrespect the game,” La Russa said. “Joe was going to make sure the game was played correctly. And he had a flair, and he’s the perfect guy to set the record because he represents a lot of what an umpire should be.”

Watching Kopech

Right-hander Michael Kopech continued his strong start to the season Monday, striking out three in two scoreless innings to finish off the Sox’ 5-1 victory and lower his ERA to 1.78. And whether he has started or pitched in relief, Kopech has come through and shown why the Sox acquired him from the Red Sox along with Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale.

The fireballing Kopech even got two strikeouts on changeups, a pitch he has been working on.

“There’s a lot of things that keep evolving with him,’’ pitching coach Ethan Katz said. ‘‘It’s a huge arm; it’s one of the best fastballs in the game. But anything that’s thrown his way, he’s done a great job and handled every pressure situation. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Katz said the Sox will continue to be careful with Kopech, who missed the 2019 season after Tommy John surgery and opted out of 2020. The team is monitoring Kopech and making sure he has a workload he can handle, but it doesn’t sound like he has a set innings limit.

“There’s no magic number that we’re saying, ‘Once he gets to this, he’s done,’ ” Katz said. “It’s just a matter of respecting what his body is saying to be able to get through this.”

Engel starts rehab assignment

Outfielder Adam Engel (right hamstring) began his rehab assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Charlotte against Norfolk. Engel, who hasn’t appeared in a big-league game this season, led off and was the Knights’ designated hitter.