White Sox meeting identified complacency, underscored positivity

Confidence turned to cockiness, Jose Abreu stated, and “we just expected to come in and roll like we did last year,’’ Liam Hendriks said.

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Michael Kopech’s throw to Romy Gonzalez gets through the shortstop.

Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve, right, steals second while Chicago White Sox shortstop Romy Gonzalez is unable to handle the throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Perhaps the thing that resonated most with a group of about 10 White Sox players and manager Tony La Russa during a meeting Friday was respected clubhouse leader Jose Abreu warning everyone not to expect better results because of anything accomplished in the past.

Abreu said “our confidence turned to cockiness,” Sox closer Liam Hendriks said.

Hendriks was in on the meeting with team leaders and La Russa, who called for it after the Sox lost three of four games in Kansas City to drop to .500.

There had been complacency, Hendriks said before the Sox lost 3-2 to the Astros on Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“We just expected to come in and roll like we did last year,” Hendriks said. “That hasn’t been the case.

“Now looking back on it, I think a lot of guys are realizing it’s not an easy thing to be able to go and win the division two years in a row. That’s something hopefully we can get back.”

After the meeting, which stressed “positivity,” Hendriks said, the Sox swept three games from last place Detroit and won the first two games of the series against Houston before having their streak snapped.

In spring training, the Sox talked of World Series aspirations after winning 93 games last season and losing convincingly to Houston in the American League Division Series. After a loss in Kansas City last Wednesday, veteran Johnny Cueto questioned the team’s fight and fire.

La Russa said he had planned to meet with players before Cueto said that, and he repeated Wednesday what he said then, that he wished Cueto would have kept the comments “in the family.”

“He was [ticked],” La Russa said.

In any event, the Sox looked livelier and more intense during the streak, but they didn’t look good when right-hander Michael Kopech walked leadoff batter Jose Altuve on four pitches to open the game, then allowed Altuve to get running leads off first and second for two stolen bases before scoring on Yordan Alvarez’s sacrifice fly. Kopech had Altuve dead to rights at second, but shortstop Romy Gonzalez couldn’t glove his last-second low throw.

“I made some mistakes that I think could have been avoided and could have limited those three runs to less than that,” Kopech said.

And it didn’t look good when third baseman Yoan Moncada apparently thought there were two outs when he gloved Altuve’s double-play ground ball but threw softly to second baseman Josh Harrison for only a forceout.

With the Sox trailing 3-0 after Trey Mancini’s sacrifice fly and Chas McCormick’s RBI double in the fourth, Moncada doubled home the Sox’ first run against lefty Framber Valdez. The bases were loaded with no outs after Valdez walked Yasmani Grandal, but the Sox got only one more run, on Harrison’s double-play grounder to shortstop Jeremy Pena. Adam Engel was called out on strikes, ending the inning. The Sox were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Kopech went six innings, allowing three runs and six hits, walking two and striking out two. Valdez pitched seven innings of two-run ball for his 20th straight quality start, tying the franchise record set by Mike Scott in 1986.

“Everyone has understood that this year hasn’t been exactly the smoothest sailing; it hasn’t been what we expected it to be,” Hendriks said. “But no one’s ever doubted the talent level of this clubhouse.”

In one of the goofier events of the season, an 11-year-old boy ran to Engel on the field, asking for a hug.

He said, ‘Engel, Engel, I love you. Can I have a hug?’ So I gave him a quick hug and let security do their job from there,” Engel said.

The Sox needed a hug after their loss. They can still win the series with a victory Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve been fighting,” Kopech said. “That goes a long ways. What we did in the last five before tonight was impressive and staying in there with them tonight and keeping the game close, I think we played hard. As long as we can keep doing that, I think we’re in a good spot.

“We know what’s at stake at this point in the year.”

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