Future is now: Robert's walk-off fulfills dream

August 30th, 2020

CHICAGO -- When was taking part in the 2019 Futures Game, the White Sox outfielder was asked what he envisioned as his signature Major League moment. His reply was to hit a walk-off home run.

On Sunday, during a 5-2 victory for the White Sox over the Royals in 10 innings at Guaranteed Rate Field, Robert fulfilled that goal. His three-run, one-out blast to left off of Tyler Zuber gave the South Siders their second walk-off victory of the weekend after launched a game-winning homer Friday against Ian Kennedy.

The White Sox (21-13) have won 11 of their past 13 games and moved back into a first-place tie with Cleveland atop the American League Central standings, 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota. Robert was hitless on Sunday prior to connecting on his ninth home run and extending the White Sox single-month franchise home run record to 53 in August, although he had two previous flyouts at or near 100-mph exit velocities.

“I’m super happy; very excited about this moment,” Robert said through interpreter Billy Russo. “It’s the first time that I've hit a walk-off home run. In the past I had like a base hit, a walk-off, or a sacrifice fly, but nothing like this.

“Never a homer. I can’t recall a moment like this. Just hitting a homer to win a game is very special, but I still know that I have a lot of room to improve and keep learning this game, and I’m just going to keep working hard and doing whatever it takes to get better.”

was the White Sox story of the game prior to Robert’s big moment. The No. 8 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline threw five no-hit innings in his second big league start and fanned seven against one walk issued, to Maikel Franco.

Ryan O’Hearn’s lineout to right fielder to open the second was the only ball to leave the infield against Dunning. He recorded 13 whiffs, including seven on eight swings off of his slider, while topping out at 92.4 mph, per Statcast. Dunning exited after throwing 79 pitches, a range manager Rick Renteria said the rookie would be held to when announcing his start Saturday. Cam Gallagher’s one-out double to left-center off reliever in the sixth became the Royals’ first hit, but there was never any talk of keeping Dunning in longer.

“We were strong in the conviction [with] the program we had established for [Dunning], and we were going to stick to it,” Renteria said. “When he came out, he was kind of surprised he was done but like I said, we're doing everything we can to make sure we bring him along at a pace that we ultimately feel very comfortable with, but he's feeling really, really good."

After having Tommy John surgery in March 2019, Dunning understands the White Sox caution. He’s also ready to go deeper in games if called upon.

“I feel like I’m capable of doing it,” Dunning said. “I’ve been built up, especially in Schaumburg, [Illinois, the team's alternate training site]. I’ve been throwing longer outings, and I feel good. I feel I can go long. I felt really comfortable on the mound today; felt in my groove. Felt really good.”

A diligent search by the White Sox to obtain another starting pitcher before Monday’s 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline only needed to go 34 miles away to Schaumburg, where Dunning was working out. Renteria responded with, “I would say yes,” when asked after the victory if Dunning was pitching well enough to earn regular Major League usage, maybe even every fifth day.

Monday marks an important 2020 moment for the White Sox, with the Trade Deadline but also because it marks the start of a three-game series against the Twins at Target Field. It’s arguably the most important series for the franchise since 2012, but with 23 games remaining after the Twins, the White Sox are trying to keep their approach the same.

“We’re playing solid baseball, and the mood of the team is it doesn’t matter who we’re facing,” Robert said. “We’re going out, trying to beat them. We’re not focused on the standings; we’re just competing and trying to do our best against each team."

“We all know and recognize how important this upcoming series is,” Renteria said. “We have to take it a moment at a time. If we can control our emotions and do the best that we possibly can to play good baseball, we give ourselves a chance to do what we need to do, which is try to win."