White Sox win on Abreu's walk-off grand slam
Rookie hits two homers for Major League record nine in month of April
CHICAGO -- Jose Abreu talked with Albert Pujols in Spring Training, and Pujols' advice was simple: Don't try to hit home runs in your first season. They will come.
Maybe Abreu is, in fact, not trying to hit home runs. It's just not working well.
Abreu hit a walk-off grand slam off Grant Balfour to give to give the White Sox a 9-6 win over the Rays on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He took time after the game to congratulate Pujols for joining the 500 home run club, and now it's Pujols' turn to congratulate Abreu -- for breaking one of his records.
The grand slam was Abreu's ninth home run in the month of April, the most in the month by a rookie in Major League history, surpassing the eight Pujols hit in April 2001. Carlos Delgado and Kent Hrbek also hit eight homers in April as rookies.
"For me it was awesome," Abreu said through director of Cultural Development Lino Diaz. "It was great and that was the first time that that happened for me here and it was awesome to go through that."
"Yeah, it's impressive," Adam Eaton said. "The proof's in the pudding, I believe. He works his butt off every day, he comes in here, does what he needs to do to get ready and he goes out there and puts everything out on the field. It's amazing, you feel like the whole place could kind of feel it. When he got up, it was like 'Uh-oh, something great's going to happen.'"
Abreu tied the record with a solo homer in the third inning, and his six RBIs on the night gives him 27, tying him with Pujols for the most RBIs by a rookie in April.
Trailing 6-4 entering the ninth, the White Sox staged a late rally. Alejandro De Aza doubled with one out and Tyler Flowers walked. Paul Konerko pinch-hit for Gordon Beckham and drew a walk to load the bases. As he jogged to first, he and Balfour got into a shouting match, rare for the Sox normally stoic captain.
"After I walked, he's close to me, eye contact was made and I started running down the line and I heard yelling," Konerko said. "I don't know what he was yelling about it. I was just trying to make sure it wasn't towards my direction. That's really it.
"When someone's that close yelling, you want to find out why. When someone on a baseball field on the other team is yelling that close to you, you just can't have that."
Said Balfour, "I don't know. I'm angry at myself, so if he wants to yell at me, whatever. I wasn't yelling at him. I was frustrated because I missed by six feet there. He's been playing a long time and so have I. I respect everything he's done. But to think that I was yelling at him? Why? If he's trying to get under my skin, usually it doesn't work out. Tonight it did for him."
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Konerko was lifted for a pinch-runner. Eaton followed with a chopper to second and narrowly beat the double-play relay throw at first. Rays manager Joe Maddon challenged the call, which was confirmed. Tampa Bay second baseman Ben Zobrist appeared to have trouble getting the ball out of his mitt before flipping it to second for one out, while Eaton hustled down the line.
"Yeah, I gotta hit the ball farther," Eaton said. "But my legs come in handy every now and again, I'm glad to keep the inning going and give him a chance and good things will happen."
After Eaton showed that his left knee and hamstring are just fine after sitting out the previous five games, Marcus Semien drew a walk to re-load the bases for Abreu. Balfour simply had to challenge the slugging first baseman.
"There's nothing you can do. I mean we had that the other day with [Miguel] Cabrera," Ventura said. "You get in there with the bases loaded, there's nothing you can do. You eventually either have to get him to swing at something out of the zone or throw him a strike. He did get one on him, but he's a good hitter, he's just a really good hitter."
Abreu's heroics bailed out Matt Lindstrom, who gave up a two-run homer to Evan Longoria in the top of the ninth that gave the Rays a briefly-held 6-4 lead. Lindstrom walked Matt Joyce to start the inning, the 10th of 11 walks issued by White Sox pitchers on the night.
White Sox starter Erik Johnson couldn't make it out of the second inning and struggled mightily with his command. The Rays sent 10 men to the plate and scored four runs in the second, all with two outs. He was pulled after walking in the fourth run with a free pass to Matt Joyce, who coaxed a team-record five walks.
It was a much-maligned bullpen that held things together -- save Lindstrom -- long enough for the Sox to hang around. Jake Petricka came in following Johnson's RBI walk of Matt Joyce and got Evan Longoria to ground out on the first pitch to end the inning. Petricka went another 2 1/3 innings without allowing a run despite walking three. Zach Putnam dialed up a 5-2-3 inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth and worked 2 2/3 innings without allowing a hit. Ronald Belisario threw a scoreless eighth.
The Sox have certainly shown that sort of resiliency all season. Friday's win was their fourth walk-off win this season -- which means one-third of their wins have come in that fashion.
"It keeps things going," Eaton said of walk-off wins. "I know with Arizona last year we had a lot of walk-off wins, and when you can string a few together, these really kind of -- not that you're not having fun coming to the ballpark, but you really look forward to getting back out there and getting things going again. It brings the team together really quickly. Celebrating at home plate is a special thing that we enjoy doing for sure."
In terms of keeping tabs of season totals, though, it was all about Abreu Friday night. Ventura agreed that an ending like that couldn't have been scripted.
"You can't, you can't," Ventura said. "But again you're talking about a guy -- he's very professional about what he does. He's not a normal rookie that doesn't know anything, he definitely knows what he's trying to do. I'm glad he's on our team."