Nobody expected Yermin Mercedes to maintain his April pace forever. Thrust into a bigger role because of the long-term injury to Eloy Jimenez, Mercedes finished the first month of the season with a .415 batting average, a .659 slugging percentage and five home runs and established himself as a fan favorite because of his endearing story and titanic blasts.
It took him awhile Friday, but he got back on track when the White Sox needed him the most.
After entering 0-for-22 in his previous seven games, Mercedes had the game-winning single in the ninth inning to give the Sox a 9-8 victory against the Tigers. It was manager Tony La Russa’s 2,763rd win, tying John McGraw for second on the all-time list.
“The other games [are] past, it’s past,” Mercedes said. “Little slump, 0-for-25, 0-for-26, I don’t remember, but we keep working. Keep working every day. Don’t put your head down. Do the best we can do, continue. It doesn’t matter if you go 0-for-25, 0-for-26, it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen for us. You’re not a robot.”
After the Sox got out of the ninth thanks in part to a running grab by Billy Hamilton on a drive by Miguel Cabrera to center before Liam Hendriks got the last out, Yoan Moncada led off the bottom of the inning by getting hit by a pitch. Jose Abreu followed with a single, setting up Mercedes’ clutch hit over a drawn-in infield.
La Russa thought Mercedes had shown progress earlier in the night with good at-bats.
“He’s got the heart of a lion, and the situation did not scare him,” La Russa said.
The last situation, La Russa said, did not scare Mercedes, who was mobbed by his teammates after handing the Sox a four-game lead over second-place Cleveland in the American League Central.
“It’s a good point right there, celebrate with my teammates right there,” Mercedes said. “I’m feeling great. Very happy, very proud.”
Like the Sox did after squandering a 7-2 lead, Mercedes needed that late success. After his dramatic emergence, Mercedes is on another part of his journey. Much of the league has seen him, and instead of challenging him to hit strikes, pitchers have changed their approach against Mercedes.
“He’s being pitched tough,” La Russa said. “Guys fall behind, they’re not just coming right after him, early in the count or later in the count.”
For most of the night, it looked like the Sox would cruise to another victory.
Despite Dallas Keuchel needing only 80 pitches to get through six innings, La Russa turned to reliever Codi Heuer to begin the seventh with a 7-2 lead. That decision did not turn out well.
Heuer allowed two walks and a double before Evan Marshall came in.
Marshall, who had allowed one run and four hits in his last 7„ innings, gave up a sacrifice fly before surrendering Jonathan Schoop’s three-run homer. After a single by Cabrera, catcher Eric Haase’s homer gave the Tigers an 8-7 lead and stunned most of the crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Yasmani Grandal, who homered Thursday, tied the game in the bottom of the seventh with his second home run of the night, providing an immediate response after a tough inning.
“It shows our character, whether we’re down by five or up by 10, we’ve got to play nine innings, and we’ve shown that we’re able to do that, and we’re able to play hard,” Grandal said. “The fact that we were able to come out with a win was huge.”
If not for the bullpen, Keuchel, who’s looking for the consistency that has eluded him much of the year, would’ve picked up the victory. Other than allowing an RBI double by Schoop in the third inning that came after an error by Moncada and a homer by Schoop in the sixth, Keuchel looked closer to what he wants to be.
Despite the hiccups, the Sox got what they needed. And it came from somebody who needed something, too.
“The game-winner today is because we’re working hard,” Mercedes said. “We try to do the best, everybody together, doing the best we can do on the field.”