Abreu plays hero in ways surprising, not in extra-inning win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
José Abreu was the MVP for a reason.
A lot of reasons, actually. And Chicago White Sox fans see them every day.
So it should come as no surprise that it was Abreu once again playing hero as the White Sox scored a big win as the summer months arrive and the games start getting more important.
The White Sox kicked off a four-game series, and Monday's doubleheader, against their closest competition in the American League Central standings, scoring an 8-6 extra-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday afternoon.
And they have Abreu to thank for it, the first baseman contributing in his MVP style in ways both surprising and not.
The more shocking of his contributions came when he took a throw off the helmet that allowed the then-go-ahead run to score in the sixth inning. It was the second time Cleveland broke a tie with a throw off a base runner's head against the White Sox this season, first doing it in walk-off fashion when Yu Chang's throw hit Yasmani Grandal on April 12. This time, César Hernández was the offending infielder, hitting Abreu while attempting to start a double play.
But as was the story of the game, no lead was safe, and the game was tied by the bottom of the seventh, when Abreu made his MVP impact in more customary fashion, starting a big double play at first base in a critical moment, allowing reliever Codi Heuer to breeze into extras despite allowing a leadoff base hit.
Then Abreu delivered with the bat in extras.
The White Sox got a stroke of good luck with Billy Hamilton as the automatic runner to start the extra inning, and he stole third base to put the tiebreaking run 90 feet away. Abreu cashed in on that opportunity, battling elite Cleveland reliever James Karinchak in a nine-pitch plate appearance that ended in a sharply hit sacrifice fly to left field. Hamilton scored easily.
Of course, the runs weren't done in this one, and Adam Eaton's two-run homer a few batters later probably loomed larger from a final-score standpoint, Cleveland adding a run of their own in the bottom of the inning. But Abreu was the talk of the postgame, the White Sox once more in awe of what their leader and MVP does so often with the game on the line.
"That at-bat by Abreu, it would be tied for first for one of the greatest I’ve seen against a pitcher of that caliber in that kind of situation," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "I’ll never forget it, and our fans will never forget it."
With two middle-of-the-order bats missing from this White Sox lineup, it's on guys like Abreu to keep the team's World Series hopes afloat, and that's exactly what's happened. Despite a slow start, Abreu is right where you'd expect him to be in so many categories. He leads the majors in RBIs. He's on pace for around 30 home runs. And coming into Monday, his on-base percentage was a quietly great .360, just .010 points off where it finished during his MVP campaign a season ago.
It's not that this stuff has stopped being incredible. It's just that it's become so very expected.
"Not surprised," Eaton said. "The guy's impressive."
Even something like scampering home on a wild pitch. Even something like taking a throw off the helmet. Even the fluky plays somehow reveal how important Abreu is to this team. And that's never going to stop, giving the White Sox a leader, a middle-of-the-order bat and a franchise centerpiece they can count on as they chase a championship in 2021.