The White Sox woke up ready to get the party started.
Smelling a chance to clinch their first American League Central title since 2008, the Sox swung for the fences early, built a seven-run lead with four homers in the first two innings in Game 1 of a split doubleheader and coasted to a 7-2 victory over the Indians Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
The result puts the Sox, a Wild Card entry in the abbreviated 60-game 2020 season, into the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time.
It was the Sox’ second division title under 76-year-old manager Tony La Russa, who guided the 1983 team to the AL West title in 1983.
“That’s what we’ve worked for the whole season,” said Tim Anderson, who homered in each of the first two innings. “We battled day in and day out and through a lot of tough injuries. To get this, it’s a good feeling. It’s a good start. We have to keep pushing.”
“To win the first game and not delay it, I just appreciated they were so ready to play,” La Russa. “Team effort. They’re very happy. It’s well deserved.”
After Liam Hendriks struck out Miles Straw for the last out, the Sox’ celebration was relatively subdued, much like any other victory. La Russa, and others, had bigger smiles than usual, however.
The second-place Indians (74-77), trailing the Sox (86-66) by 11 1⁄2 games, were out of the AL Central race early and out of this game quickly as Anderson led off the game with a home run before Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Anderson homered in a six-run second inning against right-hander Aaron Civale. Anderson hadn’t homered since Aug. 20 and Jimenez hadn’t homered since Aug. 29.
Reynaldo Lopez pitched 3 ½ innings of two-run ball, serving up homers to Austin Hedges and Bobby Bradley. Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Craig Kimbrel and Hendriks combined on 3 2⁄3 scoreless innings of relief of the seven-inning game.
“It’s like Fantasy Island,” La Russa said of winning a division in his second stint with White Sox. “Winning never gets old. You appreciate everything everyone did to get here. It can get better if we play well in the Division Series.”
It was La Russa 13th division title as manager and first since 2009 with the Cardinals. His first one was with the Sox in 1983.
Because of injuries, it marked only the fifth time Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Robert and Jimenez were in the same lineup this season.