It’s only mid-May, but there’s a very good chance that José Abreu once again defined his season by a play he made with his legs.
Last year, it was his run-scoring two-out infield single against the Twins that tied the game and put the Sox in position to clinch their first postseason berth since 2008.
On Sunday, he scored the walk-off run by steaming home on a pitch that bounced in the dirt, but barely left it.
The team context isn’t as crucial. Rather than an October-clinching triumph during the last two weeks of September, the play merely salvaged a first-half split against a third-place team.
The personal context is what gives it heft. Three games before, Abreu had to be helped off the field after he and Hunter Dozier crashed into each other at full speed on the first-base line. He still showed some of the damage from the collision when he returned to the field a day later, wearing a bandage on his cheek and making the sign of the cross after every successful catch of a pop-up.
The visual damage to his face put a little Paul Konerko in his triumph, as Konerko had a knack for answering personal injury by dealing out his own kind of on-field pain (and Abreu even reached on an HBP). But while Abreu is a continuation of the White Sox’s proud tradition at first base established by Konerko and Frank Thomas since 1990, he’s tapped into a deeper well of athleticism that puts his own stamp on the position.
Hell, even Yoán Moncada, by all accounts younger, faster, and sleeker than Abreu, might look at Abreu and wonder how he can get some of what his mentor’s got. Twice over the weekend, Moncada tried to generate the same kind of magic with his legs, and he came up short both times.
On Saturday, he tried to extend the game after Leury García’s 12-pitch walk, but his bid for his own valiant infield single resulted in a face full of dirt.
On Sunday, he tried to score the winning run on Yermín Mercedes’ single one batter earlier, blasting through Joe McEwing’s stop sign. He ended up on the wrong side of his calculated risk and ended up with a face full of Cam Gallagher’s mitt.
Per Statcast’s sprint speed metric, Abreu is reliably slower than Moncada by a foot a second. That foot a second matters when Abreu’s in one of those ruts that generates a league-leading amount of double plays, but like every other shortcoming in his game, he has a way of suspending those concerns with an incredible array of moments that forces fans to put faith in his vision.
Why will he swing at a pitch out of the zone? Because he thinks it will help, and oh look, he’s one off the RBI lead in 2021 after taking the titles in each of the last two seasons. Why did he bolt for home when this was awaiting him?
Because he saw this result on the other side.
Now, was Abreu actually safe? Royals manager Mike Matheny was so certain Abreu was out that he alleged some kind of greater integrity issue afoot.
Abreu’s teammates didn’t take such a strenuous position to the contrary. Instead, they reveled in the gray area. Maybe Abreu wasn’t safe, but he also wasn’t out.
When broached on the topic, multiple White Sox treated it with a knowing smirk: as if they knew the truth, but would rather not ruin the poetry of their leader charging forward to claim victory when there should have been no opportunity for it. Maybe that carried the day in the replay review, as well.
“Yeah … we’ll take that,” said Cease after a pause.
“They said he was safe, they even gave it replay,” Eaton said with a smile.
The room for interpretation makes Abreu’s dash reminiscent of another unconventional White Sox artist. If Doug Eddings denied A.J. Pierzynski’s attempt to take first base on his strikeout in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the 2005 ALCS, it wouldn’t have been seen as a grave injustice. Likewise, if Edwin Moscoso called Abreu out at the plate, I don’t think the visual evidence on hand would have been enough to overturn it. We would’ve instead been likening Abreu’s failed bid for glory to his out at the plate in the Vince Velasquez Game.
Instead, Abreu’s foot speed followed Pierzynski’s footsteps in leaving a Manager Mike in the other dugout to rail and flail at an unfair system, as though Abreu taped a photo of himself being safe over the lens of every camera that would’ve proven otherwise.
Abreu can occasionally bend games to his will like this. Sometimes it gives him the confidence to force action that isn’t nearly as successful, but where you might see a lack of discipline, others see courage. He hasn’t had much in the way of support over his entire White Sox career, and even as the rebuild is supposed to be cresting, injuries and design flaws have resulted in a lineup that can be neutralized by decent right-handed pitchers. The team is resigned-yet-comfortable in relying on Abreu an uncomfortable amount, and if there’s a way he can win them a game, everybody’s going to give him the room to let him try. Apparently he only needs a little bit.
(Photo by Matt Marton / USA TODAY Sports)
How are you always so good at creating the titles?
Agreed. I came here to post just that – the play on words in the headline is just fantastic.
Jim’s got talent. We are lucky to have him.
Jose is the heart and soul of this team. The Sox couldn’t ask for a better leader.
I hope he imparts some wisdom to Yoan on not sliding headfirst into first base. First off, it’s not faster to do so (do they not get that the main reason for sliding is to avoid tags which is moot on a first base play?). Second, the risk of injury is so high. I hate when we don’t learn from past bonehead mistakes.
The “awaiting” shot — what a tableau!
Give me all of Matheny’s tears, salty and delicious
How is Abreu not officially designated as Team Captain?
In honor of Drake.
He doesn’t need to be.
didn’t they do that a few years ago? I seem to remember seeing a C on the uniform. Anyways, I think it’s dumb for grown men to need a “captain”. Abreu has become the captain through his actions and leadership. No need for the insignia.
Ok. When it comes to replay review, on the surface I let my Sox bias ring annoyingly loud and clear because it’s fun. However, I feel deep down I have a good handle on seeing truth.
While the cautionary “clear and convincing evidence” needed to overturn plays sometimes clouds the outcomes more than it should, The replays on TV are generally enough to show us truth (regardless of final outcome).
Matheny’s ire as well as some Sox players’ subtle admissions that they may have been lucky would suggest to me that Abreu was actually tagged out. However, the slo-mo, to me, actually made Abreu appear even ‘safer’ than at real speed. Yes, arm touched arm, but he totally swooped that tag!
If the call was ‘OUT’ on the field and challenged by TLR, the Umps would say ‘OUT’, my outward bias would say ‘SAFE!!!!’, and my bias-free insides would say, ‘yep, still safe’.
Did I missing a camera angle or something?
I’m guessing their replay rooms can see it better than we can at home.
that is what I was thinking because it wasn’t until the end that we saw the angle from the 3rd base side which seemed pretty definitive, however we only saw that angle once and at the very end just before they made the call.
Also Gallagher didn’t seem raving mad, so circumstantially speaking, maybe he had doubts that he tagged Abreu.
We hear all the time about review staff having a better view than us at home which I’m sure is true.
It was just confusing to see that level of replay dismay come from a manager after a play where they pretty clearly made the right call. Good point about Gallagher.
Tony is giving Abreu the day off. Vaughn at 1B, Mercedes at DH
Probably a good idea…We need Abreu in one piece for the long haul
At the end of the game yesterday after the celebration, there was a moment where you could see Abreu shuffling, perhaps with a limp, while on his way to the dugout stairs…
He is out for the Twins series. Time to promote Sheets
Seems like Abreu has avoided age-related decline so far by being in better shape in his thirties than he was in his twenties. Check his sprint speeds on baseball savant and where he ranks among first basemen. He was one of the worst at age 28 and 29, but has been middle of the pack in all four years of his thirties. And this seems to be the foundation for his defensive improvement.