CLEVELAND — There is Jose Abreu for all to see, the RBI machine driving in a clutch run with a tough game-winning at-bat against the Indians that manager Tony La Russa called an all-timer.
And there is Abreu behind the scenes, the team leader on a bus to the hotel after going 0-for-5 and leaving the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position in his last at-bat of a 6-5 loss to the Indians, consoling and pouring wisdom into rookie Yermin Mercedes.
“I was just telling him this is not a fair sport,” Abreu said Wednesday. “You don’t make a season in two months. You have to work hard and grind throughout the whole season. And sometimes, you don’t get the results you are hoping [for]. But you have to keep working.”
Mercedes, batting fifth behind Abreu, went 0-for-4 that night, his average dipping to .304. Abreu, a candidate for American League Player of the Month in May, has urged Mercedes, the AL Rookie of the Month in April, ‘‘to not get too comfortable.”
He will keep working because that’s who he is. And he’ll keep driving in runs because that’s who he is. Abreu is aiming to become the only player besides Cecil Fielder to lead the AL in RBI in three consecutive seasons. Through Tuesday, he led the AL with 46 after knocking in 60 in 60 games during his MVP season a year ago.
Against James Karinchak in the first game of a doubleheader Monday, Abreu lined a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Billy Hamilton with the go-ahead run. It would be the only win of three games against the Indians in a matchup of the top teams in the AL Central. The Sox and Indians were rained out Wednesday.
“That’s an MVP at-bat right there,” hitting coach Frank Menechino said. “He shortened everything up, he put the ball in play.
“The guy is a professional hitter, and he’s an RBI machine. The guy works his butt off, and he knows what he wants to do.”
There are those who say RBI are merely a matter of getting a hit or making contact when runners happen to be in scoring position, but Menechino will hear none of that.
“I never acknowledged anybody saying that RBI don’t matter,’’ Menechino said. ‘‘I don’t give it any thought, I don’t even acknowledge it. RBI matter.
“You look throughout baseball, and you’ll see great hitters who were good in clutch situations and see great hitters that weren’t. You’ll see guys who could get that RBI, drive that guy in. That’s how you win the game, right? Scoring runs, driving guys in. It’s definitely a clutch moment, and you have to be prepared and control your emotions.”
“My mindset in those at-bats is easy — just try to produce,” Abreu said. “I like those moments.”
Abreu said “there’s a lot of love among us inside this team,” a family mindset that can sustain them through good and bad. Whether he’s driving that home or driving in runs, he’s always producing.
“We’re just trying to be a family and really have that sense in us, just be a family, play like a family,” Abreu said. “We are in first place right now. Maybe in a week or a month, we are not. But we have to stick together and play like a family and be like a family because that’s what really matters here.”
NOTE: The series finale against the Indians will be made up in a split doubleheader Sept. 23 in Cleveland to open a five-game series.