White Sox

After walk-off, White Sox building the expectation to win

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After walk-off, White Sox building the expectation to win

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.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Adam Eaton's aggressive baserunning pays off]

“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."

[MORE: White Sox exercise caution in removing Avisail Garcia with knee tweak]

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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

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.”

Avisail Garcia, slated for offseason knee surgery, has been playing hurt since Opening Day

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia, slated for offseason knee surgery, has been playing hurt since Opening Day

While some players' seasons have been open for interpretation, it's been an undeniably disappointing one for Avisail Garcia.

Turns out there's a good reason for the big change in his production from 2017 to 2018.

Garcia's battles with injuries this year have been no secret, but the White Sox outfielder revealed Tuesday that it's literally been going on all season long. He said that he felt something in his knee on Opening Day and that he's played hurt throughout the entire season. He also reported that he'll have arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 2, two days after the end of the season.

"Opening Day, I feel something in my knee," he said. "I had been feeling something, something, something and then I started feeling my hammy because I think I was favoring it. Especially because it’s my right knee, and that’s where all my power is. It’s crazy, but it is what it is.

"It’s sore. Every time I go home, it’s a little swollen. But I’m going to fix it soon. It’s been a crazy year, not for me, but for the whole team. Thank god we are alive and we are here. We have a chance. Let’s see what happens next year."

Garcia did make two trips to the disabled list this season, both due to an injured hamstring, which he said stemmed from the hurting knee. He played in 88 of the team's first 154 games, with six remaining on the schedule heading into Tuesday night's contest with the visiting Cleveland Indians.

Entering 2018, Garcia had the tall task of repeating his breakout campaign from a season before, when he made his first career All-Star appearance and posted some of the best offensive numbers in the American League with a .330 batting average and a .380 on-base percentage. During this injury-filled season, those numbers plummeted to .238 and .278.

"It’s been difficult. Difficult year," he said. "Nothing that I can do. I’ve been playing like this the whole season. Just gotta play and get after it, so it is what it is. I can’t control that. I can control what I do on the field.

"(The knee injury has) always been there. Everybody knows it’s hard when you get injury and then sit down and then go play and then sit down again. It’s hard to be consistent like that. This game is difficult so you have to be out there every day so you get to used to it and it’s hard to play like this. But it is what it is. It’s not an excuse. Everybody knows that. I’ve been playing like this so I’m trying to do my best."

Obviously, it's tough to judge Garcia's follow up to his All-Star season knowing how much his knee bothered him. But it still leaves unanswered the question of what his place is in the organization's long-term plans. He's under team control for one more season. The White Sox have the flexibility to do one of many things this offseason: keep him for one more season, try to trade him this offseason, hold on to him and try to trade him to a contending club next summer or extend him and keep him in the mix for when rebuilding mode transitions to contention mode. Garcia is just 27 years old.

Garcia said he'll be "100-percent" ready for spring training next year, and should his health be back to normal, his prove-it campaign that was supposed to come in 2018 could come in 2019. But there's also a wave of outfield prospects making its way toward the South Side that includes Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo and plenty of others. So no matter what statistics Garcia might be shooting for, the pressure will be on to show he's a safer bet than all that young talent.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Daniel Palka on Palkamania and his breakout season

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Daniel Palka on Palkamania and his breakout season

Chuck Garfien speaks with White Sox outfielder Daniel Palka who as a 26-year-old rookie has come out of nowhere to become one of the White Sox most popular players in 2018.  They talk about the time Palka gave a pitcher a black eye in Little League, how he used to be a relief pitcher at Georgia Tech,  why the Twins gave him up on him, the time when Chuck called Palka’s walkoff homer this year, his friendship with Kyle Schwarber and more.   

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: