'Liam! Liam!' Hendriks welcomed back to mound with thunderous ovation

May 30th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The announcement came in the Guaranteed Rate Field press box in the bottom of the seventh inning on Monday night:

is warming in the White Sox bullpen.”

And then, in the top of the eighth inning of the eventual 6-4 loss to the Angels, with the White Sox (22-34) trailing by a run, Hendriks’ return from a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma became official.

“Yeah, it was great being back out there,” said Hendriks during his postgame press conference. “Getting back, putting cleats on, running out, doing all that. I felt good, I felt strong, I felt comfortable out there.

“Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to get the two-strike pitch where I wanted to. It was get ahead, generally, and then struggle to put them away. There were some positives from a purely baseball aspect, but there were definitely some things to work on. Get back, be available and be ready to go tomorrow.”

He sounds just like the Liam Hendriks White Sox fans -- and really, Major League Baseball fans -- have grown to love and respect. Hendriks’ first focus was success, and he allowed two runs over his 27 pitches (16 strikes), leading to an animated reaction in the dugout and as he walked off the field.

But this night was anything but business as usual. Far from it, actually. Hendriks ran in from the bullpen to a standing ovation and took a moment on the mound to compose himself before throwing a first-pitch strike to Matt Thaiss.

Hendriks had a large amount of praise for the fans who showered him with applause throughout the night. He also had special praise for Thaiss, who stepped out of the batter’s box to give Hendriks time to take in the moment.

“That was a huge sign of respect,” Hendriks said.

“For everything he went through, battled back, and to get out onto the field, it's a huge accomplishment for him,” Thaiss said. “I think everyone in here is extremely excited for him too."

Fans chanted, “Liam! Liam!” as the Angels’ dugout stood in unison with the White Sox to applaud. Thaiss singled to center and swiped second before Gio Urshela grounded out to first baseman Gavin Sheets with Hendriks covering. Hendriks walked Jared Walsh -- although his 0-2 pitch called for a ball was in the zone, per Statcast -- and then yielded a sacrifice fly to Zach Neto. Mickey Moniak blooped a double down the left-field line, and Mike Trout singled home a run off the glove of leaping shortstop Tim Anderson.

Shohei Ohtani grounded out to end the frame, and fans rose again as Hendriks headed to the dugout after topping out at 96.6 mph, per Statcast.

“What he’s done has motivated everybody,” White Sox starting and losing pitcher said of Hendriks. “We know who Liam is as a person. And he sets high standards for himself.

“He treated this the same way, attacked it head on and came back and was able to get back to the mound faster than a lot of people probably would. It’s nothing but good vibes in the clubhouse from there.”

Kopech (3-5) allowed four runs in the first inning, snapping his 15-frame scoreless streak, but he struck out 10 over 4 1/3 innings. He became the fourth pitcher in franchise history to record 10-plus strikeouts in an outing of less than five innings.

Andrew Vaughn, Romy González and Eloy Jiménez went deep, and the White Sox brought the winning run to the plate in Yasmani Grandal in the ninth before earning a third straight loss and falling seven games out of first in the American League Central. With all due respect to the combatants, wins and losses were secondary to Hendriks on this night.

Hendriks received a standing ovation prior to the start of the game when he was joined by his wife, Kristi, in presenting a check to the Lymphoma Research Foundation for more than $100,000 raised through the White Sox sale of “Close Out Cancer” T-shirts in support of the closer’s fight. He then received another standing ovation after the fourth inning, when he made his way out to the bullpen from the home dugout.

Manager Pedro Grifol said the team will evaluate Hendriks’ work on Monday -- when he recorded six swings and misses and looked and felt strong -- before deciding on his possible return to the closer role. He has proven to be elite in that capacity, and it’s what he wants to earn following his inspiring fight to return.

“I'll never be OK with mediocrity. I'll never be OK with not being at the back end of the bullpen,” Hendriks said. “But in saying that, I need to earn it. I don't want handouts. I need to work.

“Our guys have been throwing well out there. At the end of the day, that's mine. But as I said, I need to earn it. There's no freebies. I will get there, and I will earn it myself."