As he braced for his teammates to envelop him in a giddy mob, a beaming Carlos Sanchez stirred the drink.
Neon t-shirts with Adam Eaton’s face on them and hand motions don’t win divisions and pennants. But for the White Sox, after Sanchez’s walk-off single netted them a 2-1 win over Cleveland and sixth consecutive victory, the straw that stirs the drink has become a noticeable element for a club that’s now over .500 for the first time in 2015.
While White Sox players prefer to keep the origin and explanation of the straw that stirs the drink shirts and gestures inside the clubhouse, the fact that it’s become a public thing — even being tweeted out by the team's official Twitter account — is a sign this group of veterans, greenhorns and high-profile offseason acquisitions is starting to come together and believe it can win every night.
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“It usually takes time,” designated hitter Adam LaRoche said. “Some teams get it really early, other teams pick it up later and some teams never get it. It’s one of those things.
“But the thing is, you gotta win to get that. It’s not something you can teach a team or teach guys individually to get. It comes with winning and coming back in games and winning, which we’ve done.”
That belief was justified Monday, as Chris Sale matched a dominant Corey Kluber to help keep the White Sox from being buried against the reigning American League Cy Young winner. Sale fired eight innings of one-run ball, working like the kind of ace who could go pitch-for-pitch with a guy who’s totaled 30 strikeouts in his last two starts (just short of tying Kerry Wood’s modern record of 33 strikeouts, set in 1998, in consecutive starts).
“He’s probably the best pitcher in the game,” Sale marveled. “He has the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen, really.
“It’s not a comfortable at-bat when you go up there and tell yourself if I make contact here, I’m doing pretty good,” LaRoche added. “I really don’t like that feeling. That’s kind of what I got tonight off of Kluber. That was as about as good as I’ve ever seen."
Down 1-0 and flailing away at Kluber’s video game arsenal, Eaton chopped a triple down into the right field corner with one out in the seventh. After Melky Cabrera struck out for the second time — Monday was his first multi-strikeout game since Sept. 2, 2014 — Eaton set his aggressiveness level to ludicrous speed and broke for home on a 1-1 breaking ball in the dirt.
The ball barely bounced away from catcher Roberto Perez, but Eaton dove for the plate and dislodged the ball from Perez’s glove to score the tying run. Jose Abreu wound up striking out in that at-bat, so Eaton’s instincts paid off. This was one of those nights where no one seemed destined to get an RBI off Kluber, but the White Sox still found a way to score.
“I think we’re all starting to get confident,” Sale said. “We’ve always believed in each other but I think we’re starting to believe in ourselves. When we put that combination on the field, hey, he’s the best pitcher in the game and to come out and not be fazed by that, to keep grinding, to keep at it and win in the end, you can’t ask for much more than that."
Having Sanchez deliver the walk-off hit, too, was another pick-me-up to avoid an insult-to-injury 10th inning. Avisail Garcia drew a leadoff walk to start the frame but was removed with right knee inflammation, and with the winning run on second Alexei Ramirez popped out on the first pitch and Geovany Soto struck out.
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The 22-year-old Sanchez fell behind on two upper-90’s fastballs from Indians righty Zach McAllister, but flipped a 97 mile per hour 0-2 fastball on the low and outside corner just out of the reach of a diving Zach Walters in left for the game-winning hit. Sanchez has only been back with the team for four games after trading places with Micah Johnson between Charlotte and Chicago.
He’s the latest metaphorical straw to stir the metaphorical drink. More importantly, he generated another step in the right direction for a team that’s starting to gain what LaRoche said is an important key to becoming a contender.
“More than anything, you build confidence,” the 12-year major league veteran said. “Every game like this, you come back the next day with a little more confidence. And that’s huge, that’s what this whole thing’s about.
“When you get to the point where you show up to the field every day expecting to win, and not hoping to win, that’s when you know you’re a really good team. And those are the best teams that I’ve been on, that show up every night expecting to win.”