“Skip said, 'If you hit one in the gap, don’t stop,'” said Sheets with a broad smile on the postgame Zoom. “He said, 'Just keep going.' ... If I hit one in the gap, there was no way I was going to stop. Even if I hit a single I probably would have kept going … Oh, man, I would have loved to hit one there.”
Sheets grounded out to shortstop Luis Rengifo in that last at-bat, settling instead for a three-hit evening including a 447-foot three-run home run to right and four RBIs. His performance was part of a team effort reducing the magic number to win the American League Central to seven for the White Sox (83-61).
“He's definitely important to the squad,” said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson of Sheets. “Just to see what he has done since he got here, and he just continued to keep learning and keep getting better. So hopefully, he can continue to keep building off that and continue to keep being that guy for us."
Anderson returned to action for the first time since Aug. 28 after being sidelined by a left hamstring strain. He finished with one hit. Every White Sox starting position player reached base at least once, and every White Sox starter but José Abreu had at least one hit. Abreu matched a career-high with three walks.
Yet, even with the decisive final score, there were a few moments of trepidation for the White Sox. In the third inning, with Lucas Giolito on the mound for his first September start after coming off the 10-day injured list Tuesday, left fielder Eloy Jiménez made a running, leaping catch of David Fletcher’s bid for a home run to left.
Jiménez hurt himself in Spring Training chasing a home run and getting his left arm caught on the left-field wall in his failed attempt. So when Jiménez stayed on the ground for a few moments after making the grab and colliding with the wall, there was a moment of concern. It turned out to be nothing more than a little bit of theatrics from the always entertaining Jiménez, who flashed a peace sign to the raucous White Sox bullpen while laying on his back after faceplanting.
“That was unreal, man. That ball was smoked,” Giolito said. “Anytime a home run gets robbed, it’s always a big celebration. That was a hell of a play. I don’t really have too many words for it. It was just a sick play.
“Eloy has been proving that he deserves that left-field spot. I know that he takes that to heart. It’s important to him to show that he’s a big league left fielder, and that’s just a great example right there.”
La Russa was asked if he held his breath while Jiménez was on the ground, and quickly stated how “holding his breath” would be the nicest-sounding way to describe how he felt.
“I told him that from now on, he's going to put his back against the wall. When he breaks back, he's just going to hit his head on it,” La Russa said. “And he's going to play everything in front of him. He thinks I'm kidding. I said, 'Am I kidding?' Because that was so scary. We're going to play him deeper. And if some bloopers fall, they fall. But he ain't going to fall.”
Moment No. 2 came leading off a two-run fifth, when Luis Robert took a 96.6 mph Oliver Ortega fastball off the back of his helmet. It was more of a glancing blow thanks to some quick maneuvering from Robert, who stayed in the game. On the night, Robert homered, doubled and scored three runs.
Giolito allowed three runs on three hits over four innings and 87 pitches. He struck out eight, raising his season total to 188, and recorded 18 swings and misses, per Statcast.
This victory also pushed the White Sox to within one game of the Astros for the No. 2 playoff seed and first-round home-field advantage, although the Astros hold the tiebreaker.
“It’s important that we go out ready and prepared to play good, clean baseball and ready and prepared to win every single night,” Giolito said. “That’s pretty much been our mentality all year. But on this home stretch at the same time giving guys rest they need and stuff like that going into postseason, but at the same time taking every single game very seriously and playing to win every single night. That’s hugely important.”