ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The White Sox had lost four in a row and fallen four games below .500 before pulling out a needed 3-2 victory against the Rays on Saturday. For as bad as these underachievers have looked all season, they would like to assure you they were not losing the faith.
“We’re not even a third of the way into the season,” said closer Liam Hendriks, who finished off the win with a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts in his first appearance since Sunday. “If you worry about standings now, it’s the same as if you are in first place, it’s a distraction from what you need to focus on, which is the day to day.”
Hendriks said this before the Sox’ win.
The Sox are five games behind the Twins and a half-game behind the Guardians in the American League Central. They are supposed to be winning the division comfortably.
“We’ve got a certain aura in this clubhouse where we won’t be overly threatened by any situation, any hill or mountain or however you want to describe it,” Hendriks said.
Hendriks had been -getting rusty for lack of work. So it goes for the closer when there are no late leads to protect.
After three frustrating losses in Toronto and one against the Rays on Friday, Hendriks was going to enter this game even though the Sox were losing 2-0 and not hitting a lick against Drew Rasmussen (seven scoreless innings).
Hendricks got a save opportunity and 15th conversion, after all, after Kendall Graveman pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
“This was a big one,” said shortstop Danny Mendick, who’s filling in for Tim Anderson while the All-Star is on the injured list. He made a tough play to get Graveman out of trouble.
Mendick also singled in the Sox’ three-run eighth after pinch hitter Adam Engel’s looping double off shortstop Vidal Brujan’s glove in short left and before Jake Burger’s pinch homer.
He turned around and smiled at Burger as they circled the bases.
“You could tell by the energy when we won,” Mendick said, “it was ‘All right, let’s take a breath, let’s get this, win a series tomorrow, go home and hopefully we can put a hurtin’ on some people.’
“Everyone was excited. Liam comes out and shoved it, that’s all you could ask for. A beautiful game for the White Sox.”
First baseman Jose Abreu, whose 12-game hitting streak was snapped and whose error on a spinning grounder led to the Rays’ two runs — both unearned against Dylan Cease — nodded his head convincingly when asked if the team has been getting the right messages from manager Tony La Russa and the coaching staff.
“We’re not playing very good baseball right now and I think that overshadows what you do as an individual, but I’m proud of the effort we’re putting in the game,” Abreu said through translator Billy Russo. “Keep grinding, keep working and trusting each other.”
Abreu agreed with Hendriks that it’s way too soon to panic.
“Of course. No doubt about it,” he said.
The feeling in the clubhouse is get healthy, get key players back, piece enough wins together without Anderson, Lance Lynn and Eloy Jimenez to stay afloat and then take care of business.
“We’re not passing through a very good moment, but we know the talent that we have,” Abreu said. “The clubhouse is really united. And that’s important. This is a very long season, and I think at the end we’re going to be where we’re supposed to be.”