Not bad for a first impression.
While it can’t come close to eradicating last season’s carnage, energy and excitement that were absent a year ago were everywhere during Monday’s season-opener as the renovated White Sox began the 2014 campaign with a 5-3 win at U.S. Cellular Field over the Minnesota Twins.
Newcomers Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu — two of five players to make their first Opening Day starts Monday — each went 2-for-4 while familiar faces Chris Sale and Alejandro De Aza also starred and the White Sox provided a sellout crowd of 37,422 with a glimmer of hope that 2013 was just a nightmare and not a harbinger of bad times ahead.
De Aza, whose 2013 campaign was marred by base running mistakes and bad defense, became the first White Sox player to hit two Opening Day home runs since Jim Thome in 2008. He finished with three RBIs.
“It feels new,” De Aza said. “Whatever happened last year, as a team we keep it in the past and thank God the fans keep it in the past, too. It’s a new beginning, and let’s start from now.”
While more than one victory will be needed to wipe clean the stench of a 99-loss campaign, the White Sox immediately showed off the traits they believe could make them a contender by next season.
Abreu, the Cuban free agent who has had as much intrigue as any recent player in White Sox history, ignited the crowd when he ripped a double over the head of Twins right fielder Oswaldo Arcia to start the second inning. An inning later, Abreu ripped an RBI single to left to put the White Sox ahead for good. He also put together two more solid plate appearances and finished 2-for-4.
Equally exciting was Eaton, acquired in a three-team trade in December. He lived up to always-a-pest billing outsiders said he possesses from the outset. Eaton singled in each of his first two at-bats and started a two-run rally in the third.
An offense that bears little resemblance to last season’s group — one that failed to score 600 runs in a full season for the first time since 1980 — finished with 11 hits and needed only three innings to score four runs.
De Aza’s second homer of the day off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco in the sixth stretched the advantage to 5-2. Last season, when he lost 14 games despite a 3.07 ERA, Sale received four or more runs of support in only 10 of 30 starts.
Sale said he appreciated the breathing room but doesn’t think he or his teammates will look into the victory too much.
“It’s still Game 1,” Sale said. “We’re not going to jump the gun or anything. But obviously starting off on the right foot is always nice, and we’ll build momentum for the rest of the season.”
Sale already has a strong foundation after he pitched well despite windy conditions that catcher Tyler Flowers said affected some of the left-hander’s sliders.
After he allowed a game-tying, two-out, two-run single to left in the third to Kurt Suzuki, Sale settled in. He retired 13 of 14 batters after Suzuki’s two-run single, including 10 straight. Five of Sale’s eight strikeouts came between the fourth and seventh inning. He allowed three earned runs and five hits with a walk over 7 1/3 innings.
The team’s revamped bullpen then did the rest.
Ronald Belisario and Donnie Veal preserved a two-run lead when Veal retired Joe Mauer, who represented the tying run, on a grounder to short.
New closer Matt Lindstrom then pitched around a one-out double in the ninth to record his first save since April 14, 2011, with a scoreless inning.
Though it’s only one game, manager Robin Ventura said he appreciates a game in which the White Sox made few mistakes and took advantage of key situations.
“It’s a big deal because you look at what last year was and you can wipe that away,” Ventura said. “ You play a clean game, you get the right hit at the right time, you pitch, you’ve got guys taking an extra base on a ball in the dirt. Just that part of it, it’s clean so you can wipe yourself away from that smell of last year.”