De Aza's HRs help White Sox start '14 with a bang
Hits two homers, drives in three runs; Abreu has two hits, RBI in debut
CHICAGO -- One game, one victory, or maybe the beginning of the White Sox reshaping generation?
That theme prevailed throughout the White Sox clubhouse following a 5-3 victory over the Twins before an Opening Day sellout of 37,422 fans at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday. The White Sox also won on Opening Day against the Royals in 2013 behind Chris Sale.
It was a shutout that stood as one of the few memories from an otherwise forgettable season.
Monday's contest had a completely different feel than most of last year's 99 losses or even the 63 victories, based on timely hitting, solid defense and the buzz generated by new additions of Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton and a full season of Avisail Garcia. The good feeling in beating the Twins helped wash away the '13 struggles, but it's a rough past stretch not even thought about much by this current high-energy group.
"I don't think anyone is really thinking about last year. You guys are," said a smiling White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who accounted for the game's only run last Opening Day with a solo homer. "I can tell you in the locker room we aren't really thinking about it. We've all kind of moved on and took what we need to from it."
"The energy in the ballpark was awesome," said Sale, who threw 70 of his 108 pitches for strikes over 7 1/3 innings. "The energy in the dugout and the clubhouse before the game, even during the game, we were staying positive. It was fun to watch."
This new-look White Sox crew still was helped out by a couple of old friends in Sale's eight-strikeout, five-hit effort even with less than his best stuff and the home-run ball. Those deep drives came off the bat of Alejandro De Aza, against a 22-mph wind, as the left fielder became the first White Sox player to hit two homers on Opening Day since Jim Thome did the same against CC Sabathia in Cleveland in 2008.
De Aza also became the first White Sox player to hit two homers at home on Opening Day since Minnie Minoso against the Kansas City Athletics in 1960. The left-handed hitter enters the '14 campaign as part of an apparent platoon with Dayan Viciedo and hitting lower in the order at the seventh spot, but certainly responded well to the changes.
"I'll tell you what, I love RBIs," said De Aza, who hit a two-run homer off of Ricky Nolasco in the second and a solo shot in the sixth. "I try to put the ball in play, try to do my job in any position in the batting order that I am. Thank God, it's happened now."
"Ultimately, it came down to a couple mistakes there, and we couldn't quite catch them at the end," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But I thought we played pretty decent."
Minnesota quickly tied the game off Sale in the third with a two-run single from Kurt Suzuki, but the White Sox reclaimed the lead with two in the bottom of the third. Abreu singled home one run, and Conor Gillaspie tagged up and scored from third on Adam Dunn's foul popup to shortstop Pedro Florimon, who raced from behind second in the defensive shift to make the grab with his back to home plate.
Both instances were positive signs for the White Sox.
In fact, everything Abreu did Monday would qualify as a good sign.
Abreu ripped a double over the head of right fielder Oswaldo Arcia on the first pitch he saw as a big leaguer, and then singled to left in the third. He also lined out twice to center field, as the big man showed his ability to use the whole field.
"More importantly because we won, I was very happy to be a part of that," said Abreu, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz.
"He just seems to hit the ball hard a lot," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "He just has a professional approach, and the good news is that Opening Day and being up here didn't change him at all."
With two outs and one run across in the eighth, Joe Mauer represented the tying run for the Twins. But Donnie Veal retired him on a grounder to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, and Matt Lindstrom pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save since April 14, 2011, as part of the Rockies.
Lindstrom found out about being named the closer after Sunday's workout and was excited to be back pitching in the ninth. He was just as excited to see the better team energy in the clubhouse and the dugout.
"It's only one game," Lindstrom said. "But if we can play like that and put together a solid effort all year round, we should be able to do some exciting things."
An off-day Tuesday gives the White Sox a chance to enjoy their opening win. It's another step away from last year and toward what they hope is a significant turnaround.
"Teams go last to first all the time, and it's all about momentum and getting confidence," said Eaton, who had two hits. "Everything went well for us today, but we have to keep it rolling. It's one out of 162."
"You play a clean game, you get the right hit at the right time, you pitch, you've got guys taking an extra base on a ball in the dirt," Ventura said. "It's clean, so you can wipe yourself away from that smell of last year."