CHICAGO -- White Sox manager Tony La Russa made one point abundantly clear following his team’s thrilling 2-1 walk-off victory over the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Leury García, who hit the two-out walk-off home run on an 0-2 fastball from Garrett Whitlock (8-4), should never be referred to as a utility player. At least not if you want to remain on good terms with La Russa.
“He’s a regular player who plays all around,” said La Russa, in a calm but direct tone. “If you look at the at-bats, if he stays healthy, this guy would get as many at-bats as a regular. It’s just [that] he’ll play all over. He’s not a utility player. He’s just a really good everyday versatile player.”
That “really good everyday versatile player” started once again at shortstop, his natural position, in place of an injured Tim Anderson, who should return to the lineup Tuesday against the Angels. García has played every position on the field aside from catcher and first base.
García is the longest-tenured player on the White Sox roster, having come from Texas to Chicago on Aug. 11, 2013, and he is an extremely upbeat popular presence in the clubhouse. Even with all those plaudits, he would not be the first pick for a walk-off blast despite his 427-foot homer in Saturday’s loss.
Yet there was García being mobbed at home plate with a crowd of 36,178 going crazy, after going yard to the deepest part of the ballpark. García connected off Boston’s most consistent pitcher, who struck out Eloy Jiménez and Yasmani Grandal to start the ninth but then made a 97.7 mph mistake.
"When I was 0-2, my mind was still looking for a fastball, because that's one of the best pitches,” García said. “He threw me a fastball right in the middle. I knew I hit it good, but it was [to] center field. So I'm like, 'You better go.'"
“We felt like where they were bullpen-wise, it was worth taking a chance with Garrett there to extend the game,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We knew they were short, so just trying to get through more outs and get to the 10th, but it just didn’t happen.”
Boston (81-64) tied the game in the ninth off Craig Kimbrel, who blew a save in his second straight appearance (after also doing so in the eighth Saturday). Kimbrel was also working a third straight game, with 40 combined pitches thrown during the first two due to Ryan Tepera, Aaron Bummer and Liam Hendriks being unavailable.
Enrique Hernández opened with a double on a play Gold Glove-winning center fielder Luis Robert often makes, although it had a .650 xBA, per Statcast, and was tailing toward right-center at 105.4 mph off the bat. Despite walking two guys in that ninth after the double, Kimbrel still managed to limit the Red Sox to one run.
“He kept missing with the slider,” said La Russa of Kimbrel’s work after the double. “You are going to have tough situations, but it’s really tough when you give up the run and all of a sudden they have two or three on the board.
“All they got was one. That run scored and he got the next guy out, and we had a chance to win it. He’s a Hall of Fame candidate. I’m thrilled to have him. Wednesday, can’t wait to pitch him.”
Lance Lynn made his first start since Aug. 28 after coming off the injured list, and he struck out nine over five innings, while not issuing a walk. The Red Sox got to Lynn for just two singles over his 70 pitches, with Lynn wanting to go back out for the sixth.
“It was 75-80 [pitches] and going back out at 70 would've probably pushed it past that, and then I would have gotten mad at whoever came and took me out in the middle of an inning.” Lynn said. “It was good to do five at where we're at, and then the next time, we'll build off of that. So we're in a good spot."
Sunday’s victory and an 11-1 Cleveland loss to Milwaukee dropped the White Sox magic number to 9 to clinch the American League Central. Chicago (82-61) is the lone team over .500 in the division and is fighting just as much for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, although the White Sox won’t even acknowledge scoreboard watching with the Indians.
Instead, they celebrated one of the greatest moments of García’s career on Sunday.
“That’s big power. What timing,” La Russa said. “It had to end that way, I think. We had the last hero.”
“It was great, especially in front of those fans, especially here at home,” García said. “And we all know that they've got a pretty good team, too. But we got the win."