Tim Anderson led the way, as he often does. With the American League Central Division clincher there for the White Sox’ taking in the first game of a split doubleheader with the Indians on Thursday, Anderson led it off with a homer.
Hours later, after the Sox walked off Progressive Field with a 7-2 victory and the franchise’s first division title since 2008, general manager Rick Hahn hugged the All-Star shortstop.
“This is how we go,” Hahn told Anderson.
“The energy, the focus. You could tell after the second at-bat, he said, ‘We’re ending it today,’ and the rest of the team followed that lead. It was a beautiful thing.”
After Anderson homered in the first, he homered again in the second, a three-run shot to make it 6-0. Before that, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez also homered, and Robert singled off the wall to make it 7-0. All of the long balls came against right-hander Aaron Civale.
“That’s what we’ve worked for the whole season,” Anderson said. “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.”
The Sox (86-67), who lost the second game 5-3 on Orlando Mercado’s walk-off homer against Jose Ruiz, played it with Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez sitting out. Those five stars and Yasmani Grandal, the DH in Game 2, were in the lineup together in Game 1 for only the fifth time this season because of injuries.
“You lose a young, middle-of-the-order, Silver Slugger bat [Jimenez] at the end of spring training, which is a big gut punch, and you lose a Gold Glove, also middle-of-the-order bat from center field [Robert] a few weeks later, it would have been easy for this club to accept a sort of ‘woe is me’ mentality,” Hahn said. “But [manager] Tony [La Russa] and his coaches and the veteran leaders in that clubhouse, I can’t say enough about how great of a job they did remaining focused on, ‘OK, who’s here, who’s active and how are we going to win tonight?’ ’’
The Sox are in the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time. It was their second division title under the 76-year-old La Russa, who guided the 1983 team to the AL West title. It was La Russa’s 13th division title and first since 2009 with the Cardinals.
“Even though I was kicked out of the family, I’ve always been a White Sox fan, as everybody knows,” La Russa said. “It’s like ‘Fantasy Island.’ Winning never gets old. You appreciate everything everyone did to get here. It can get better if we play well in the division series.”
The Sox low-keyed the win, celebrating like almost any other victory, although La Russa had a bigger smile than usual and the team planned to party after Game 2.
The overwhelming mood, though, was this was just one step.
Anderson took the first one on clinch day.
“It means a lot,” Anderson said. “Being able to start the game off with a home run, that’s getting the guys into a different mode. And as you can see, the rest of the guys just followed up right behind that and we were able to get the win.”
NOTES: Michael Kopech started Game 2 and pitched two perfect innings, striking out four, and will be stretched out to go deeper in his next outings leading to the postseason. With Carlos Rodon’s status in question because of a sore shoulder, Kopech could be considered as an opener in a postseason game.
“There is no limit to, depending on how rested he is, how we can use him any way the team needed,” La Russa said. “He’s ready to go, he just wants to compete.”
• Andrew Vaughn was reinstated from the injured list and played Game 2 at third base, made two good plays and had a two-run single. Jace Fry was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.