Sox split DH on Sheets' walk-off home run

July 20th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Gavin Sheets picked the perfect time for his first career walk-off home run.

The left-handed-hitting rookie connected on a 96.1 mph four-seam fastball from Twins starter José Berríos for a three-run, seventh-inning blast to give the White Sox a 5-3 victory Monday night in Game 2 of a twin bill at Guaranteed Rate Field. Sheets yelled in celebration upon reaching first base, while third-base coach Joe McEwing raised his hands when Sheets made contact.

The 390-foot blast had a 99.4 mph exit velocity, per Statcast, and helped the White Sox avoid a doubleheader sweep after they dropped a 3-2 decision in eight innings in Game 1. It’s also an example of Chicago's ever-present next-man-up theory, with Sheets certainly making himself more important than an injury fill-in on a daily basis.

“I’m just trying to help the guys every day,” Sheets said. “Not trying to think too much about staying. That’s my goal. I want to be here. I want to be a part of this run. This is awesome. This is the place to be right now.

“I try to think day to day on how to help this team win. If I continue to do that, just think about the day at hand, I’ll have more success and continue to enjoy the ride right now.”

Berríos limited the White Sox to two solo home runs -- José Abreu in the first and Yoán Moncada in the sixth -- over six dominant innings and jumped ahead of Brian Goodwin at 0-2 to start the seventh. But Goodwin grounded the next pitch into right for a single and then moved to second when Andrew Vaughn was hit by a 1-0 pitch.

Both hitters moved up one base on a wild pitch from Berríos before Sheets connected on a 3-1 offering.

"He's a part of the team that's been doing that, those heroics,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “And it was such a tough day, they pitched us so well. Berríos was almost unhittable. It's why the game is just crazy. You try to say you understand it and can predict it -- you're fooling yourself and everybody else. The guy's out there pitching a beauty, and we get three. But we kept trying, and sometimes it works."

“We tried. We had a plan,” said Berríos. “We tried to guess going in, and he handled it.”

Minnesota had lost six straight to the White Sox in Chicago this season before tying Game 1 in the sixth on a Nelson Cruz home run off Lance Lynn and then winning it with two runs in the eighth. The White Sox (57-37) raised their season record to 11-3 against the Twins with their improbable comeback in the nightcap.

Remember, Sheets was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts prior to the walk-off.

“Between the lights and the excitement and seeing everybody out of the dugout, that was the best part,” Sheets said. “Just the excitement. ... This could have been a tough day for us. To get that win, that was huge for all of us. Everybody showed their emotion there. I tried to take it in with them.

“Unless the first two guys get on in front of me, unless Goody has that great two-strike hit and Vaughn gets hit on that next pitch, that walk-off doesn’t happen without those two guys. That was huge for us. It’s a huge momentum swing going into the rest of the series.”

Abreu’s home run marked the 215th of his career, moving the first baseman into sole possession of fourth place on the franchise’s all-time list ahead of Carlton Fisk and just seven away from surpassing Harold Baines at 221 for third. Even with that historical context, Sheets’ blast had greater impact.

Center fielder Luis Robert begins his injury rehab assignment on Wednesday with High-A Winston-Salem to further test his recovery from a torn right hip flexor, while Eloy Jiménez is in the midst of his rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte following his left pectoral tendon rupture. Soon, there will be less outfield spots for a young player such as Sheets, but as he stated, his focus is more on the day to day, much like the rest of this team.

“They're doing what they're supposed to do,” La Russa said. “They're coming out to try and help us and make their impression, and it's a great experience for them. Obviously, big contributions. Today was huge."