LOS ANGELES — Jose Abreu knew Monday night was monumental occasion and treated it accordingly.
A man who has embraced the spotlight since he arrived in the major leagues did so once again during a reunion with two of his former Cuban teammates at Dodger Stadium. Abreu made a triumphant return to the White Sox lineup when he blasted a two-run home run off Clayton Kershaw in a game the Los Angeles Dodgers later rallied to win 5-2.
The homer, in his first game back from the disabled list, highlighted a rare occasion where Abreu had a chance to share a major league field with former teammates Yaisel Puig and Erisbel Arruebarrena, both of whom hail from Cienfuegos, just like the White Sox slugger.
Before the game, Abreu realized just how significant a moment it was. All three players appeared in the game, as Arruebarrena took over as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. Abreu finished 1-for-4 while Puig went 0-for-4 but reached on an error.
“You have to thank God for that opportunity,” Abreu said through a translator. “That doesn’t happen all the time. It’s a good feeling to have them here, close together.”
Abreu apparently couldn’t contain his joy.
Prior to Monday, a sore left ankle kept Abreu out of action since May 17. Aside from a pair of stepped up workouts, including live batting practice against White Sox farmhands over the weekend, Abreu’s work was limited as the club tried to quiet down an injury that manager Robin Ventura said had made him wince at times.
Though a pair of live batting practices would seem to be inadequate preparation to face a two-time National League Cy Young winner like Kershaw, Abreu proved he didn’t need much more of a warm-up.
With no score in the fourth, Abreu fouled off a first-pitch fastball from Kershaw and then hammered an 88-mph slider over the fence in left to put the White Sox ahead.
Abreu has team-highs with 16 homers and 44 RBIs in 45 games this season.
Abreu spent significant time before the game with his former teammates from his province with a population of roughly 140,000 people. Arruebarrena picked Abreu up from the team hotel and the two spent time together in the morning.
Once he arrived at the park, Abreu had a chance to speak with Puig after the two only saw each other once at spring training prior to first pitch of an exhibition game. The two teammates, who hit back-to-back in the lineup in Cuba, made postgame plans.
“We had a good conversation,” Abreu said. “We’re planning to probably do something after the game, go and have dinner or something like that where we can exchange a little bit more.”
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“I am very glad I had the opportunity to do more today and will have the opportunity to do more during this series.”
Abreu could be on the same path as Puig, who was named the National League rookie of the year in 2013. Abreu already has strong competition in New York pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and Houston outfielder George Springer but could very well be the American League’s ROY this season.
After a slow start, Puig caught fire in May and began to demonstrate more patience at the plate. Abreu said he’s not surprised by his former teammate’s success.
“He’s played like that ever since I met him,” Abreu said. “He’s had success doing that. I hope that God blesses him and he continues to have success the way he does it.
“He’s done a great job. I hope he continues, and anything I can help him with would be great.”