Standing on second base as Jose Abreu walked up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, Adam Eaton could sense something special was about to happen.
The White Sox center fielder's premonition turned out to be correct, as Abreu promptly ripped a walk-off grand slam into the right field bullpen to send the White Sox home with a 9-6 win over Tampa Bay on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field. The homer was Abreu's second of the night and his first career grand slam, sending his teammates and the crowd of 17,210 into a frenzy.
"I just try to get a good swing so I can make strong contact, good contact so I was looking for a pitch that I could do that with and that’s what happened," Abreu said through a translator.
Abreu was modest and humble after the game for a guy whose walk-off grand slam gave him nine home runs in the month of April — a new major league record for a rookie. His manager and teammates, though, gushed about the impact the 27-year-old Cuban has had on the team so far this season.
"We wouldn’t have the feeling that we have offensively without him," manager Robin Ventura said. "He’s a big part of it, and just the way he swings the bat, his approach, maturity and person that he is is infectious for our guys."
"He’s a beast," added first baseman Paul Konerko. "He’s big and strong, but he’s even a better hitter than how big and strong he is. He’s got a plan up there. I think calling him a rookie, that’s what he is as far as time, but I don’t look at him as a rookie."
Perhaps most impressive about Abreu's walk-off slam was that he hit it to the opposite field, going with a pitch on the outer third of the plate and not trying to pull it. While Abreu repeated that he was only trying to make solid contact, he couldn't have put a better swing on the ball — especially with the game on the line.
Abreu's grand slam bailed the White Sox out of what was an otherwise sloppy game. White Sox pitchers combined to walk 11 — the second time this season Sox pitchers have issued double-digit free passes — and starter Erik Johnson didn't make it out of the second inning.
Tampa Bay's offense didn't capitalize on the glut of walks it drew, though, leaving 11 men on base and hitting into three double plays. After chasing Johnson in a four-run second, the Rays didn't score again until Evan Longoria hit a two-run home run off Matt Lindstrom in the top of the ninth.
That home run gave the Rays a 6-4 lead, but the White Sox showed some impressive resiliency in the ninth inning to set up Abreu's heroics. After not drawing a walk in the first eight innings, the White Sox drew three in the final frame, the last of which was taken by Marcus Semien with two out and the tying run on third. Eaton narrowly beat out what would've been a game-ending double play before Semien's walk, showing no lingering effects from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss five games this week.
While the White Sox might have as many wins (12) as losses this season, these are the kind of games they feel capable of playing on any given night. Ventura likes the fight in this team and had that belief justified with Abreu's heroics Friday night.
"They just feel like they can always come back," Ventura said. "It’s something that’s hard to get, and I think when you get wins like this where you just keep fighting, guys are having great at-bats, you know all the way through guys were having great at-bats there at the end, just give yourself a shot first.
"Being able to come through is big, too, but you’ve got to give yourself an opportunity and these guys, they just keep grinding out at-bats. They go deep in the counts, they’re seeing stuff and it’s fun to watch.”