White Sox manager Tony La Russa looked at his active roster Tuesday before a 9-3 win against the Angels and saw all the names he wanted to see. Well, just about all the names. Put it this way: more names than he has seen most nights during a season marked by one injury after another but also — someday we’ll look back at how the heck it happened — an indomitable division lead.
Shortstop Tim Anderson: back in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 28.
Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito: on the hill for the first time since Aug. 31 to start a three-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Both of them: reinstated from the 10-day injured list Tuesday, their strained left hamstrings no longer gumming up the works.
Oh, and magic number: just seven.
“We’ll get to that magic number,” Anderson said, “but don’t stop there.”
Anderson and Giolito joined, among others, left fielder Eloy Jimenez, who missed the first 99 games of the season; center fielder Luis Robert, who was out from May 3 to Aug. 8; and catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was on the shelf from July 6 to Aug. 26. All of the hands the Sox went into spring training absolutely counting on — minus the since-traded Nick Madrigal — were on deck.
“That’s a real good-looking team,” La Russa said.
The Sox are always going to look better when Anderson — “our igniter,” La Russa called him — is in the leadoff spot. The plan for now is for Anderson, who needed all of two at-bats to get back into the hit column, to play every other day for a brief period until he’s ready to go full bore.
And although he went only four innings, working on a pitch count, Giolito brought an Opening Day starter’s presence to the mound. He struck out likely American League MVP Shohei Ohtani both times they squared off. He struck out shortstop Luis Rengifo, third baseman Jack Mayfield and center fielder Brandon Marsh — all swinging — in the second, then got catcher Max Stassi and right fielder Juan Lagares to start the third.
Giolito allowed three runs — the second and third on a two-run shot by first baseman Jared Walsh in the fourth — but ended his night with a wicked slider that left Stassi buckled at the plate.
That’s three straight games in which one of the Sox’ linchpin starting pitchers returned from the IL — first Carlos Rodon, then Lance Lynn, now Giolito.
“Now it’s just do everything we can to keep them healthy, keep them competitive, win games and we’ve got a chance,” La Russa said. “You’re in contention, so this is the best fun you can have. The only thing that tops it is actually October.”
There were a few scary moments Tuesday that — already? — threatened the Sox’ state of relative good health. One came in the third inning when Jimenez robbed Angels second baseman David Fletcher of a home run and crashed into the fence in left. Nobody wants to see Jimenez get hurt doing that very thing again. This time, he made the catch, remained on his back for a few awkward seconds, then made his teammates in the bullpen go wild as he held up two fingers — the “peace” sign.
“We’re going to play him deeper,” La Russa said. “And if some bloopers fall, they fall. But he ain’t gonna fall.”
In the fifth, a pitch by Angels reliever Oliver Ortega hit Roberts in the top of the helmet. Roberts stayed in the game. Later, Jose Abreu got plunked with a pitch near his left elbow. He stayed in, too.
How long will they all stay right where they are — on the roster and available to play?
That’s the question. For the moment, it feels like sweet relief and, just maybe, the start of something very big.