The Luis Robert-shaped hole in the Chicago White Sox lineup is a thing of the past.
The White Sox kept their World Series hopes afloat without their Gold Glove center fielder. With him back after he breezed through a three-month recovery from a torn hip flexor, their World Series chances are getting a major boost.
"We did miss him," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said with a chuckle Monday night. "Glad to get him back."
Robert showed exactly the kind of difference-maker he can be in the White Sox 5-2 win over the visiting Oakland Athletics. We've all seen his ridiculous athletic ability, the stuff he can do that no one else can. But it's his ability to do all the stuff that needs to be done to win a baseball game that shone through Monday.
Need base runners? Robert had three hits and crossed home after every one of them.
Need to end a critical inning in a close game? Robert made running down a deep fly ball in the left-center field gap look easy.
Need a runner in scoring position? Robert stole second base with a slide so good, a video replay was needed to determine he made it in before the tag was applied.
Need a late insurance run? Robert did this:
He showed exactly why Hall of Famers have called him a "six-tool player," showing off the myriad ways that he can, to borrow a phrase from Tim Anderson and the White Sox marketing department, change the game as the team continues its championship chase.
"It's so fun to watch him take really good at-bats, where he's laying off pitches and swinging in the strike zone," La Russa said. "That last two-out slider, he just gets the head out and hits it a ton. But he's a complete player. He stole a base where you can't steal it, with his speed, and tracks balls down."
The White Sox, remarkably, got one contribution after another from fill-ins and reserves while Robert — as well as Eloy Jiménez, Yasmani Grandal and Nick Madrigal — spent time on the shelf. Jiménez made his own return a couple weeks before Robert's, and he's come back to the White Sox with a bang.
Just like Jiménez showed with his powerful outbursts against the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins — before homering into the corn in the Field of Dreams game — Robert is showing it, too, in his own way, of course, using his incomparable mix of power, speed and defensive prowess to do it all.
"It's just him doing his thing," White Sox relief pitcher Michael Kopech said. "You hate to expect that out of a player every time, because when they don't do it, you can be a little disappointed. But he shows up more than he doesn't. So it's a lot of fun to just watch a guy like that be himself out there."
Robert showed last season against these same A's what kind of weapon he can be in a playoff setting, which is obviously where he and the White Sox are trying to get back to this fall. Robert launched a jaw-dropping 487-foot dinger at the Coliseum. He had four hits and scored two runs in that three-game postseason series.
The A's visit to the South Side this week is a notable one as the White Sox continue to move through a stretch of four straight series against fellow American League contenders. After dropping a three-game set against the New York Yankees, the White Sox are faced with more challenges and more opportunities to prove they can hang with other top teams, something their record against competition north of .500 hasn't exactly backed to this point.
Flipping that narrative figures to be much easier now that Robert and Jiménez are back in the fold, now that the White Sox lineup is as close to whole as it's been all year and now that the players that filled in so admirably can still be called on to keep doing what they did while the big boppers were out.
That's the kind of stuff that beats good teams. And wins playoff series.
"It makes us deeper," La Russa said. "We've waited for them so long, and they've been so dynamic coming back. But the way it works is like today, Timmy was big. Cèsar (Hernández) had a big day for us. ... Brian (Goodwin) got the guy over. Seby (Zavala) had a couple really good at-bats, three good at-bats.
"We've got to make sure nobody backs off. Because the teams we're playing — like this (A's) team, everybody in the lineup's a tough out. Everybody we play the next 10 days, whether it's Tampa Bay or Toronto, that's what we've got to do.
"But getting those guys back, definitely deepens our lineup."