CHICAGO -- Fans at Guaranteed Rate Field began chanting "M-V-P" before White Sox designated hitter Yermín Mercedes stepped to the plate in the seventh inning of a tie game with the Rangers Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
And when Mercedes delivered a go-ahead double, scoring Luis Robert in what would become a 9-7 victory, marking his fourth hit in four at-bats, the chants only grew stronger and Mercedes’ folk-hero status grew more mythical. But with a .429 average, 1.161 OPS and 15 RBIs through 17 games, Mercedes is proving to be more than a flash in the pan or a good early-season story.
“It feels great. I’m very excited to help my team to win. Doing the same thing every day,” said Mercedes during his second Zoom session of the day, following a pregame chat to discuss a burger named after him by a local restaurant. “I don’t try to think much. Just put the ball in play because I like that moment right there.”
“There is a possibility he's for real,” said a smiling White Sox manager Tony La Russa. “You go back and you count [all his hits], I'd say two-thirds of them were in the middle of something that really helped us in the game. That's a big percentage.”
Robert singled to open the seventh and swiped second when Yasmani Grandal struck out. Rangers reliever Kyle Cody worked the count to 1-2 against Mercedes, before Mercedes ripped a slider into right-center for his only extra-base hit on the night.
Mercedes picked up his fifth three-plus-hit effort this season, while becoming just the second White Sox player in team history to record two four-plus-hit games in his first 18 career games, joining Maurice Archdeacon in 1923 (also two). He is the 10th player in American League history to accomplish the feat, and first since Brent Abernathy and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
As for his approach in that seventh inning at-bat, Mercedes stressed the keep-it-simple philosophy that’s working so well for him.
“I go with my plans and just see it, hit it,” Mercedes said. “I know the team needs me at that point to find a way for Yermín to do something good. I’m feeling great. I like that moment right there.”
“Today was more special because they grinded out the tie,” La Russa said. “All of a sudden, he puts us ahead with a two-strike BB.”
The eighth time was the charm for the White Sox, as they moved over .500 for the first time this season at 10-9. The White Sox had an 0-7 record in their previous attempts to jump above break-even.
Chicago scored five in the third off Texas starter Dane Dunning, who entered Friday’s series opener with a 16-inning scoreless streak. Dunning also was the prospect traded by the White Sox over the offseason in order to acquire Lance Lynn. They knocked out eight hits against Dunning, using six singles and one Adam Eaton double to score the runs.
But Dylan Cease could not work deep enough to benefit from that outburst. He issued a leadoff walk in the fourth to Nate Lowe and Nick Solak followed with a long home run. Cease departed after 3 1/3 innings, meaning he has yet to complete five innings in a start this season.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to switch my focus a little bit more to kind of aim small, miss small, and just basically have that as my mindset and attack with my pitches,” Cease said. “I've been very mechanically focused since last year, trying to fix the cut and all that, and I think I’m ready to take the next step and not worry about that and just compete.”
Liam Hendriks struck out five over 1 2/3 innings to pick up the save, his fourth of the season.
Meanwhile, Mercedes’ excellence moves forward. He flashed a broad smile when asked about the fans’ love for him and the “M-V-P” chant, knowing it’s a byproduct of his work and La Russa believing in his ability.
“I’m happy because I have the opportunity to be with that man right there. He believes in me,” said Mercedes of La Russa. “Just doing that job I need to do every day. Be prepared for every moment.
“I love my fans, every time and every moment. I just want to make my fans happy. I want to win the MVP, so just keep working hard every day. It’s too early, but I’m working on it. I’m so excited when they call me 'M-V-P.’ We are working every day.”