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White Sox muscle up late, pull away from Jays for 6-1 victory

Andrew Vaughn hits tying homer, starts five-run eighth with sacrifice fly.

The White Sox’s Leury Garcia (28) and Adam Engel (15) celebrate with Andrew Vaughn after Vaughn’s home run off Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Robbie Ray during the seventh inning Tuesday.
The White Sox’s Leury Garcia (28) and Adam Engel (15) celebrate with Andrew Vaughn after Vaughn’s home run off Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Robbie Ray during the seventh inning Tuesday.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Bring it, manager Tony La Russa said.

The White Sox opened a three-game series against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, the beginning of a 13-game stretch over 13 days that includes only one opponent with a losing record — the Tigers — whom the Sox will face in three games at Detroit this weekend.

After that, the Sox host the Rays (39-23) and play four games in Houston against the Astros (34-26).

It should be a good test, starting with the Jays, whom the Sox took care of in a 6-1 win punctuated by a five-run eighth inning.

“They’re one of the top-hitting clubs in baseball — lots of talent up and down the lineup,” La Russa said before the game. “We don’t concede anything. Our lineup has tough outs up and down, too. Other than Detroit this weekend, for two weeks it’s going to be American League East with Tampa Bay and the West with Houston. If you like competition, you’re going to like what goes on the next two weeks.”

In former Sox players Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Jays had three of the AL’s top four leaders in hits and average Tuesday — and, in Guerrero, baseball’s leader in home runs, on-base percentage, OPS and total bases and the AL leader in average and slugging. Left-hander Carlos Rodon held the Jays to one run over five innings, and Jose Ruiz, Evan Marshall, Garrett Crochet and Liam Hendriks teamed up for four scoreless innings of relief.

“They have a lot of life in their bats, and they’ve got some speed,” La Russa said. “I like to look at it as, yeah, they’re tough to play against, but we hope they think we’re tough to play against as well.”

Andrew Vaughn tied a tight game at 1-1 in the seventh with a solo homer against other-wise-dominant Jays lefty Robbie Ray (13 strikeouts), and Vaughn’s sacrifice fly started the five-run barrage in the eighth against the Jays’ bullpen. Jose Abreu and Yermin Mercedes got on base with singles to start the inning, and pinch hitter Adam Eaton (RBI single), Leury Garcia (two-run triple) and Tim Anderson (sacrifice fly) piled on more runs than were needed.

On Wednesday, the Sox will be in first place for the 35th day this season — every day since May 7 — their most in one season since 2012, when they led for 126 days. The four-game division lead they took into Tuesday was the largest in baseball.

Rodon, who started on seven days’ rest, is one-fifth of a stout starting rotation that has had as much to do with the Sox success as anything. He struck out eight, working out of trouble in the first, third and fifth innings and needing 106 pitches to get through it.

“It was an amazing five innings keeping us in the game,” La Russa said. “He refused to give in.”

Rodon said he has been knocked out in the second inning on similar nights in past, but this is shaping up as a special season for him.

“I had good stuff and good life on the fastball,” he said. “That’s a good-hitting team, an impressive young group.”

“Impressive” also describes the Sox’ rotation — Rodon (1.96 ERA), Wednesday starter Lance Lynn (6-0, 1.38 ERA over his last seven starts), Dallas Keuchel, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease. Sox starters led the AL with a 3.04 ERA as of Tuesday and have allowed two runs or fewers in 39 of 60 games, tied with the Rays for most in the AL.

La Russa wasn’t ready to call the rotation the backbone of this team, although he could have.

“How many backbones can you have?” he said.

“I agree, when you have a starter every day that gives you a shot, but some of the worst games you lose [are when] the bullpen gives it up. So you’ve got to have the backbone of the bullpen. I’m not being glib — I’m just telling you. If you want to have a special year, you want to have a chance for October, all those things have to be in place. There’s a number of backbones.”