The last three times White Sox fans have watched their team at home, they have been treated to a walk-off win. Friday night’s 2-1 win over the Marlins was the third straight, going back to last Saturday and Sunday’s walk-offs against the Tigers.
Since June started, the White Sox have won six of their seven games played. The latest thanks to a timely ninth-inning single by Luis Robert, Jr.
The Sox had stranded ten runners going into the ninth on Friday. Yasmani Grandal’s second inning solo homer provided the lone run; they had ten hits and one run to show for it. Normally, that’s a recipe for a maddening loss.
“I wasn’t frustrated that we weren’t scoring. And I know we were 0-for-10, 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position at the time. I wasn’t frustrated,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “You know why, because that’s good pitching over there. These guys are running out there really good arms. And we know the kind of baseball we have to play against these guys. And now they do too. It’s two good teams with really good pitching. These guys today, both teams, they made really good pitches when they needed to.”
But the Sox did get the one timely hit that made the difference. Despite leaving so many runners on base — including loading the bases with no one out in the third inning and then coming away empty-handed — Robert, Jr. found the right spot for a well-placed single. Elvis Andrus opened the ninth inning with a single against Marlins reliever Dylan Floro and then took second base on a wild pitch. Miami manager Skip Schumaker elected to intentionally walk left-handed batter Andrew Benintendi to try and set up a double play with Robert, Jr. coming up to bat.
“He’s a pitcher that throws a lot of sinkers, and I thought their plan was to face me trying to get a groundball, but at the same time, they were trying to not face a lefty,” Robert, Jr. said through team interpreter Billy Russo.
Though he understood the strategy of walking Benintendi to get to him, Robert, Jr. still took it as added motivation.
“I think every time that something like that happens, there’s a bigger desire for you to get a base hit, to (not) let your team down,” he said.
And instead of getting Robert, Jr. on a sinker, Floro went with an 0-1 slider that the Sox centerfielder dumped down the left field line so Andrus could score from second. Going into that at-bat, Robert, Jr. had struck out twice, flied out, and reached on a catcher’s interference.
“You can be 0-for-3 and get the game-winner right there. I’ve seen championships won on guys 0-for-3 and all of a sudden that last at-bat’s the one that counts and that’s the one you’re popping champagne,” Grifol said. “That’s why every at-bat is different and you’ve got to separate at-bats. You’ve got to flush the previous at-bat. Because you never know when you’re going to get that chance to win a game.”
“And you know what, he got a good pitch to hit that he can handle and he won the game for us.”
Grifol has called Robert, Jr. the best centerfielder in baseball right now, and not just for clutch hits like Friday’s. He regularly praises Robert’s defense. Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is the only player with more defensive runs saved (10) than Robert (8) among major league centerfielders this season. Headed into Friday’s game, Robert’s 2.2 fWAR trailed only Aaron Judge and Corbin Carroll in that same group. And it put him ahead of Mike Trout.
The Sox will have to lean more on Robert, Jr. in the coming days. During Thursday’s doubleheader in New York, Eloy Jiménez felt discomfort just above his left calf. The Sox do not plan to put him on the injured list at this point, but Grifol made it a point to not call him day-to-day, either. Instead, Grifol said he expects Jiménez to be down anywhere between three and five days. He had a .764 OPS with two home runs and two doubles since returning from appendicitis on May 28.
Friday’s win put the Sox at 29-36, their best winning percentage since April 21. More notably, they are 3.5 games back in the division. They were 7.5 back when June started. That’s a steady climb, steady enough to get someone to prompt Grifol to check the standings. Something he hasn’t done much of this season.
“I actually did yesterday for the first time in a little bit,” Grifol said. “Somebody mentioned it on the plane and I saw we were 3 ½ back.”
There is a lot of season left, which presents plenty of opportunity for the Sox to keep climbing and capitalize on being in a weak division. They can more easily overcome a really bad start when the rest of the AL Central struggles to be above .500. For what it’s worth, Grifol’s bunch are doing their part. Since May 1, they are 21-15.
“Really, we’re just continuing to put in the work and following the process and staying even-keeled,” Friday starter Dylan Cease said. “When it wasn’t going our way, we were still putting in the work and the results weren’t going our way. Now we’re finally starting to see some more normal results.”