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CHICAGO — Adam Engel picked up his first hit of the 2021 season, which also happened to be his first home run of the 2021 season, during a 5-2 victory for the White Sox over the Blue Jays Thursday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The center fielder also might have come up with a mantra to guide his American League Central-leading squad for the remainder of what is shaping up as a very special campaign.
“It takes 40 guys to win a World Series, and that’s what this team wants to do,” said Engel during his postgame Zoom. “We take that very seriously, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do since Spring Training.”
Back in the early stages of Spring Training, the White Sox (38-24) probably never envisioned this 40 guys theory to be such a necessity. But while there is no “I” in team, the South Siders have found out far too often there is an “I” in injury.
First, left fielder and Silver Slugger winner Eloy Jiménez was lost before the season began due a ruptured left pectoral tendon. Gold Glove-winning center fielder Luis Robert was knocked out by a right hip flexor tear during a game against Cleveland on May 2, and second baseman Nick Madrigal became the latest unfortunate setback as he was placed on the 60-day injured list Thursday with a right hamstring tear sustained Wednesday night.
Even Engel had a great end to Spring Training interrupted by a right hamstring strain, keeping him out of action until June 6. But this team knows it’s good — really good, at that — so they might be down, but they never seem to be out.
They have great pitching across the board with Dallas Keuchel (5-1) doing the honors Thursday before giving way to Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer and Liam Hendriks (16th save). Keuchel recorded a season-best eight strikeouts over six innings, while posting 21 swings and misses, per Statcast, 10 on his cutter and nine on his changeup.
He allowed two runs, including one in the sixth when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singled home Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with two outs. That inning could have been over one batter earlier when Randal Grichuk hit a grounder to third baseman Yoán Moncada with Guerrero Jr. on first and one out, but Moncada lost track of the outs and threw to first instead of going for the double play.
A mistake, for certain. But it didn’t thwart the White Sox.
“That is a really good lineup and [Keuchel] made some hellacious pitches to keep them off the board and shut them down,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa. “It was artistic, as far as I’m concerned — he was painting the thing. And then the infield hits early, the one run, and Moncada’s mistake cost him pitches. But fortunately, it did not cost him and us the game.”
“Yeah, that’s what great teams do, that’s what winning teams do,” said Engel of playing over the mental error. “Everybody on this team is doing the best they can at all times. If that weren’t the case, maybe you say something. We are all battling and trying to win here.”
Toronto starter Hyun Jin Ryu (5-4) basically was victimized by two pitches in the first inning. Yermín Mercedes, moved into the lineup’s second spot at least against southpaws following Madrigal’s injury, doubled with one out; one out later, José Abreu doubled him home. Yasmani Grandal launched the next pitch over the right-field fence for a 3-0 lead, producing his second home run this season from the right side.
Engel’s blast in the seventh and Abreu’s run-scoring double in the eighth, tying him for the AL lead with 48 RBIs, gave Hendriks room to work in his 12th straight save. The White Sox improved to a season-best 4 1/2 games ahead of second-place Cleveland in the AL Central, and they have yet to lose back-to-back games this season at home, where they have a 25-11 ledger.
All positive signs of this group moving forward together. One for all, even if some key players aren’t there.
“Winning is fun and we are winning a lot,” Engel said. “When we do, we are excited about it. I think everybody gets a little taste of that energy and everybody wants to contribute. It’s a huge reason as to why we are doing what we are doing with the injuries we’ve had.”
“It’s more fun than anything,” Keuchel said. “Especially when you’re good, you know you can win, night in, night out.”