CHICAGO -- The word “inspirational” comes to mind when talking about a 6-2 walk-off victory for the White Sox over the Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field that completed a weekend American League Central sweep.
Inspirational in the fact that Jake Burger hit a grand slam off Detroit closer Alex Lange for the victory, marking his first career slam and his first game-ending home run. It’s the same Burger who worked his way through two left Achilles tears and didn’t play from 2018-20.
And, of course, inspirational with Liam Hendriks picking up the win by working a perfect ninth and pitching in back-to-back games for the first time since he beat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
This Hendriks victory also happened to come on National Cancer Survivors Day.
“That’s one thing that’s pretty special,” Hendriks said. “As soon as you get diagnosed, you are considered a survivor. You’ve lived through this. Hopefully, I can continue moving forward and continue somewhat at least doing the right thing on the field and give some people some hope to continue fighting.”
“He went out there and kind of got back to his authentic self, fist-pumping and screaming a little bit,” White Sox starting pitcher Michael Kopech said. “That's what we've all been expecting to see, and he let it out.”
Kopech set the tone for this victory, allowing two runs on Spencer Torkelson’s fourth-inning home run and nothing more over seven innings. He struck out nine and walked one, giving him a four-start run of 26 1/3 innings pitched, 11 hits allowed, six earned runs, 38 strikeouts and just four walks in 95 batters faced.
Pinch-hitter Andrew Benintendi started the game-winning rally with a single and moved to second on a Lange wild pitch. One out later, pinch-hitter Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson drew walks against the reigning AL Reliever of the Month and a pitcher who had gotten the White Sox to chase consistently this season.
Burger took a first-pitch fastball out of the zone and then launched a curve to left-center field. There was no doubt the game was over, but there was some doubt Burger’s 385-foot drive would clear the fence.
“Honestly, off the bat, I didn’t think it was getting out,” Burger said. “I thought it was going to be off the wall; a single. It went out, and I’m still trying to come down from it a little bit.”
“When you fall behind with the fastball, he's probably just sitting on it,” Lange said. “Jake's a really good hitter; [I've] played against him for a long time. He's seen a lot of me and put a good swing on the baseball. These guys get paid to hit, too. That's a good swing by him."
Burger struck out in each of his first three at-bats. But a walk drawn in his fourth plate appearance got him back into position offensively.
“Going into that fifth one, he doesn’t want to bounce one or let a passed ball get by,” Burger said. “Just kind of zone in one spot and hopefully he throws it, and slow yourself down.
“If it’s in the zone, [Burger's] going to do some damage,” Hendriks said. “He doesn’t miss the mistakes. Some pitches he’s hitting haven’t been mistakes. They are good pitches. It just shows the talent he’s got. It’s an inspiring story. A lot of things have gone on to get him to this point.”
Sunday’s victory gave the White Sox a 12-7 record over a 19-game stretch with 16 games against division opponents. They improved to 26-35 overall but also moved within 5 1/2 games of the AL Central-leading Twins, who fell to two games over .500 with a loss to Cleveland on Sunday.
Business picks up starting Tuesday at Yankee Stadium with no AL Central opponents on the schedule until July 21 at Minnesota. Chicago hopes this weekend’s success, spurred on by Burger and Hendriks, will build some momentum.
“Right now, the goal is to play good baseball and win every game we can. However we get 'em, we'll take 'em,” Kopech said. “Got a sweep this time, and that's big for us moving forward.”
“These are division opponents. We'd just faced them. We lost three out of four over there,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “So it was a good way to come back and use some of our home-field advantage that we have here with our fans to win three games.”