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Sox watch Liam Hendriks unleash the 'absolute beast'

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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That was the Liam Hendriks the Chicago White Sox were hoping for.

When they handed a $54 million contract to the free-agent closer last winter, they were dreaming of performances like Tuesday's. No, they probably didn't want him to come into a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the ninth inning of a five-run game. That's not exactly the typical closer's situation.

But they were anticipating the flame-throwing, the screaming and the overpowering stuff that struck out three straight St. Louis Cardinals to strand the bases loaded and finish off an 8-3 win.

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It was the type of effort that reminded folks why he was such a big-time acquisition.

"In two months, we've tested him in some really difficult situations," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "He has real good stuff. And he's more than that. He’s a pitcher, with real good stuff. He has two or three ways he can go after a hitter. We are lucky to have him. It was a great move to add him to our bullpen."

After blowing the White Sox out of the playoffs last fall while pitching for the Oakland Athletics, Hendriks' first couple months as a South Sider haven't been smooth sailing. He's given up at least one run in six of his 20 outings. He allowed four home runs in his first 9.1 innings of work. He's blown a couple save opportunities.

 

The White Sox bullpen as a whole hasn't lived up to the preseason hype, with relievers talking about elite status and a perfect record with late leads. That kind of thing hasn't materialized through the first two months of the campaign.

Sunday, Hendriks was called into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning of a tie game against the New York Yankees. In relief of Aaron Bummer, he walked the only batter he faced, Aaron Judge, to force in the game-winning run.

Tuesday, he got a do-over. This time, it was a five-run lead with the tying run on deck instead of the winning run 90 feet away. But the bases were loaded once more, this time with nobody out thanks to a double and a pair of walks surrendered by Garrett Crochet.

Given a second straight chance to dance out of it, Hendriks didn't just dance on the Cardinals, he stomped all over them.

"Tonight was electric from him, striking out the side with the bases loaded," White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said. "That’s a hard thing to do. His fastball was really humming in there. He threw a slider, maybe the first strikeout, at 90 miles per hour with crazy vertical drop on it. And I was like, 'OK, cool. This is good to see right here.'

"He didn’t feel great about coming in in that last game in New York, but it’s great to see that bounce back and that's what he’s going to be doing for us all year.

"He’s an absolute beast."

This was the guy who snuffed out the White Sox 2020 season. This was the guy who's been baseball's best ninth-inning man the past two seasons. This was the guy the White Sox gave all that money to. This was the guy White Sox fans couldn't wait to cheer — and cheer they did, a few of them waving an Aussie flag from the stands Tuesday night.

It was all enough to provide a glimpse into the future, when the White Sox will be calling on him in the most crucial of situations. Stepping into back-to-back bases-loaded moments against fellow contenders is big. But it's also May.

The White Sox signed Hendriks for what he can give them in October. And if he gives them this — if they can unleash the "absolute beast" — then they'll be a hard team to beat.

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