Tony La Russa knows criticism comes with the territory of managing. It didn’t scare him off from returning to the White Sox’ dugout after nine seasons away from the job, although he might not have anticipated what he was in for in coming back to the South Side.
“You’re going to get some heat. If you don’t like it, do something else for a living,” La Russa said before the Sox defeated the Orioles 5-1 at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday. “Look in the mirror and just do the best you can.”
Even though the Sox (29-20) are in first place in the American League Central, La Russa’s critics have been heard loud and clear his first two months in his new job.
“It pains me that I’m responsible for some of it in some way,” he said. “But can’t help it. I just wish the club gets credit for what they’re doing. I’m just inspired by them. So impressed by what I see and what they want to do. That should be the story that takes most of the headlines. . . . Get the fans excited, have some fun out here watching these guys.”
Fun? How about a home run by Yermin Mercedes on a 3-0 pitch? Mercedes did that against Orioles lefty Bruce Zimmermann to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. It flew over the Sox’ bullpen and carried 427 feet at 116.8 mph, the hardest-hit homer by a Sox player since Statcast starting tracking such things in 2015. It came a day after he went 0-for-4 and left 10 runners on base in a loss to the Cardinals.
It was Mercedes’ first homer since May 17, when he went deep on a 3-0 pitch in a 16-4 victory against the Twins, drawing the ire of La Russa for missing a take sign and disrespecting the opponent in the ninth inning of a blowout. In a three-run seventh, Mercedes singled home two more runs after Jose Abreu collected his 40th RBI with a double.
“He attacked the 3-0 pitch,” La Russa said. “It was classic Yermin.
“I said it in spring training, you never coach aggressiveness out of a player. He’s never been told, ‘Don’t be yourself.’ Never. Just told him, ‘Don’t swing 3-0.’ That’s the only thing I said.”
Mercedes’ teammates have rallied behind him since the Minnesota game.
“They got me, stay behind me and they say continue, continue doing Yermin,” Mercedes said. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on. All my teammates, all this stuff with me, I continue to Yermin.”
Dylan Cease (3-1) pitched six innings of one-run ball, allowing a homer to Freddy Galvis in the fourth. Cease threw a career-high 111 pitches and got a career-high 29 swings-and-misses.
“The way he pitched out of [jams] in the first and sixth was the story of the game,” La Russa said.
Cease allowed singles to open the sixth but retired three batters in a row, including strikeouts of Galvis and Stevie Wilkerson. Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer and Matt Foster each pitched a scoreless inning in relief.
“I emptied the tank there,” Cease said. “Close game, high-pitch count, you know your time is limited, so here’s everything I’ve got. I tried to be as nasty as I could be.”
Billy Hamilton’s two-out single against Tanner Scott scored Andrew Vaughn and broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth.
Anderson out with sore thumb
Shortstop Tim Anderson (sore left thumb) was held out of the lineup a second consecutive day. He is expected to play Friday.
Outfielder Adam Eaton, who left Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals with a tight hamstring, was not in the lineup.
Fry starts assignment
Left-hander Jace Fry began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte. Fry, who had a 3.66 ERA in 18 relief appearances last season, has been recovering from an offseason microdiscectomy.
The Sox and Cook County Health are holding a pop-up vaccination event offering single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccinations to fans attending games on Friday and Saturday.
Fans can register for appointments through the Cook County Health website. Every fan who receives a vaccination (at Patio by Gate 1) at Guaranteed Rate Field will receive a $25 Sox gift card for use inside the ballpark.