Kopech's strong outing big plus in G2 loss

Right-hander preps for postseason after White Sox clinch title in Game 1

September 24th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- What was the reward for the White Sox winning their first American League Central title since 2008, in Game 1 against the Indians on Thursday afternoon?

Finish off the doubleheader, of course.

Cleveland earned the split with a 5-3 walk-off victory in the nightcap, in a game where the outcome wouldn’t seem to truly matter to the White Sox, who cruised to a 7-2 win in the twin-bill opener at Progressive Field.

But try sharing that fact with reliever José Ruiz, who looked more than a little upset after yielding Oscar Mercado’s walk-off home run with no outs in the seventh.

“I cannot tell a lie, I am disappointed we got beat,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Had the lead once and it got away.”

There were a couple of major White Sox positives while focusing solely on the nightcap, even with the harsh ending.

Michael Kopech threw two perfect innings with four strikeouts, after general manager Rick Hahn spoke in between games about getting the right-hander multiple multi-inning outings over the final 10 games so he’s capable of working that way in the postseason.

“Doesn't mean that Tony won't deploy him at some point in a one-inning outing,” Hahn said. “But having him able to give us three ups in an individual game will be a benefit to us.”

“He can pitch against left and rights. He’s not afraid of any situation so he’d be very important, very valuable,” La Russa said of Kopech. “There is no limit to, depending on how rested he is ... we can use him any way the team needed. He’s ready to go, his mind is, he just wants to compete.”

The same competitive fire goes for Andrew Vaughn who returned from the 10-day injured list due to back issues and earned a rare start at third. He also delivered a two-out, two-run single in the top of the sixth, as the culmination of a 10-pitch at-bat with four two-strike foul balls against reliever Bryan Shaw, to give the White Sox a 2-1 advantage.

“Got the base hit and the defensive plays he made, you have to admire him,” La Russa said. “He’s strong minded. He’s a real gamer.”

Cleveland rallied for two runs in the sixth that were charged to Matt Foster when Owen Miller delivered a two-out single off Ruiz. The White Sox tied the game in the seventh and had the based loaded with no outs against Emmanuel Clase, before Adam Engel struck out, Leury García grounded into a force at the plate and Yasmani Grandal popped out.

It was a tough loss under normal circumstances. But there’s nothing normal about a day when the White Sox won their first division title in 13 years.

About 30 minutes after the final out, the White Sox made their way to the Progressive Field tarp with various family members to reignite the celebration.

“It didn’t make sense to do it when we had a game to play,” La Russa said. “They’re going to have a fine time and they deserve it.

“Adam, he wasn’t pleased. And everybody put their arm around José and Adam, make sure they’re included. They’re going to celebrate, trust me. I saw the ladies with the camera, they’ll make a record of it. They’re waiting for it and it’s well-deserved.”