White Sox win Central for 1st time since '08

Anderson 'sets tone' with 2 jacks

September 23rd, 2021

CLEVELAND -- For the first time since 2008, the White Sox are the American League Central champions.

And they won the division crown in style with a 7-2 thumping of Cleveland on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field in the opener of a split doubleheader that officially eliminated the Indians from postseason contention.

The Game 1 victory gave Tony La Russa his 13th division title as a manager and his first since 2009 with the Cardinals. La Russa’s initial division championship came with the 1983 White Sox, who finished 99-63 to claim the AL West crown. La Russa also has won six pennants and three World Series titles, hoping to pad his resume in each category with his original team.

“Even though I was kicked out of the family, I’ve always been a White Sox fan, as everybody knows,” La Russa said. “Still a lot of people in the organization that were there when I was there. To come back, it’s like Fantasy Island. Would have never thought that I could get this opportunity, especially with the club being this good.

“Here we are, the division champs. One thing you experience over the years, winning never gets old, it gets better. It just gets better because you appreciate more what everybody had to do to get here. And that’s the message for all the guys, the first timers, it gets better, and in fact it can get better this year if we can play well in the division series.”

Chicago (86-66) didn’t need much more than the first and second innings against Cleveland starter Aaron Civale (11-5) to finish the job. In the process, the White Sox showed just how dominant this team can be when everything is on track.

Tim Anderson, who had not homered since Aug. 20, went deep to lead off the game and then launched a three-run blast during a six-run second. In fact, the White Sox hit four homers in the span of 10 batters, with Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez going back to back. Chicago has hit four or more homers in 11 games this season, including nine games since June 30. The team is 73-26 when homering and 40-6 when hitting multiple homers.

Hitting the long ball clearly makes a difference for this team, for any team, for that matter. But only one team has Anderson, and the igniter probably is the most valuable competitor of a group filled with high-end producers.

“It means a lot,” Anderson said. “Being able to start the game off with a home run, that’s getting the guys into a different mode. And as you can see, the rest of the guys just followed up right behind that and we were able to get the win.”

“I told him just a few minutes ago in the clubhouse when we embraced after the victory: 'You set the tone. You did it again today.'” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “You could tell after that second at-bat, he was basically taking the approach of, 'This is ending today.' And the rest of the team followed suit. We're a different team when he's in that lineup.”

Michael Kopech started Game 2, and while the celebration continued, the focus quickly shifted to the postseason. Hahn talked about getting Kopech multiple multiple-inning outings over the next 10 games so he’s able to be used in that manner during the playoffs.

Andrew Vaughn was activated from the 10-day injured list and promptly started at third base in the nightcap. Although Vaughn doesn’t figure to see much time at third in the postseason, the rookie will play an integral part.

A number of high-fives and hugs were exchanged after Liam Hendriks struck out Myles Straw to finish off Game 1 and the organization’s fourth AL Central title. Some players talked to the fans who made the journey, seated behind the dugout, while others took pictures on the field.

This celebration was somewhat reserved, especially compared to the three more hoped for by the team once the playoffs begin.

“Once the postseason starts, hopefully we keep that same momentum and keep pushing,” Anderson said. “We all understand that this is just a start. We’re going to celebrate this and put it behind us and keep moving, keep pushing, and hopefully we can do something special.”

“Everyone should take a moment to exhale and enjoy what this club has accomplished so far before moving on to the next thing,” Hahn said.

“I'm just honored to be a part of this team, especially with the first time in franchise history of being able to go to the playoffs in back-to-back years, which blows my mind by the way,” Hendriks said. “But the fact we're able to do it, it's a tribute to what Rick and [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], and the crew have done in supporting this team, and making sure they get the right people in this clubhouse.”