Friday night was supposed to be about the future.
The pitching matchup was Dylan Cease vs. Dane Dunning, the future the White Sox are banking on against the future they traded away to win now.
Instead, it ended up being about the glorious present unfolding on the South Side.
Certainly, not everything has been rosy for the White Sox this season, Friday's 9-7 victory over the visiting Texas Rangers finally putting them over .500. And not everything was rosy Friday, either, the White Sox blowing the 5-0 lead they built against Dunning and watching it turn into a 6-all tie just three innings later.
But the man who untied the game has been the White Sox finest story this season. He's been their most reliable hitter. And he might just be the real deal.
Yermín Mercedes already had three hits when he stepped to the plate with Luis Robert on second base in the seventh inning. Then he roped an RBI double to right-center field, breaking the 6-all deadlock, picking up his fourth hit of the evening and collecting RBI No. 3.
The man is hitting .429.
"The number of hits, and the clutch hits, that's the thing," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the game. "You go back and you count them all, I'd say two-thirds of them were in the middle of something that really helped us in the game. That's a big percentage.
"There is a possibility," the South Side skipper said with a smile, "he's for real."
Mercedes has done what the White Sox desperately needed someone to do: step up to help plug the Eloy Jiménez-sized hole in the middle of their lineup. That springtime injury changed an awful lot for this team, and without it, Mercedes might not have even made the roster. Instead, he was given the start at DH in the second game of the season and hasn't looked back.
La Russa said Friday he didn't think anyone could make up for the 40-homer, 120-RBI production he expected from Jiménez. But Mercedes has done his best to try.
South Side baseball fans have been simultaneously loving the ride Mercedes has taken them on in the early going and wondering if he'll run out of gas, as so many early season sensations have throughout baseball history. But the sample size, while still small, is getting bigger every day. And Mercedes isn't stopping.
In other words, it's starting to be worth wondering if Mercedes can be the bat the White Sox can count on to sub in for Jiménez all season long.
But it'd be one thing if it were just a steady stream of base knocks. Mercedes comes with a story, a 28-year-old rookie — "a seasoned rookie," as La Russa put it earlier this month — getting his first taste of the majors a full decade after he started playing pro ball. He's been to independent ball and the Dominican Winter League and back. He's a journeyman making the absolute most of his opportunity.
And he's also a fun-loving dude who's having a blast being the buzz of baseball.
"I want him to be himself. I want each and every one of those guys to be themselves because that's how you're going to get them at their best," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said at the close of the team's last home stand. "You see what he's doing now. He's authentic, he's being himself.
"You hit it a mile, it's OK to pimp it, it's OK to watch it. It's cool. Not everybody's doing that, not everybody's hitting a big league home run. For him to be able to do that, it's OK for him to enjoy it, man. And I'm going to back him up 1,000 percent.
"Hopefully he can keep it going and keep being that guy in the lineup and keep us going and keep coming up with huge hits. I'll definitely be cheering him on."
And the South Side is having fun, too. The Yerminator has inspired a sort of Yermania. Billy Hamilton was wearing a "Yerminator" T-shirt during his pregame media session Friday. When Mercedes himself met the media not long after, half the conversation centered around the brand new "Yerminator" burger, which Mercedes was about to taste test.
Fueled by that burger, he went 4-for-4 with a trio of RBIs. It's the dinner of champions, it seems.
"Today it was two," he said. "Tomorrow, I want four."
While the White Sox wait for more consistency from José Abreu and Yoán Moncada in the middle of the lineup, for the All-Star type production Yasmani Grandal used to make a habit of, for the Andrew Vaughn everyone heard so much about during the spring, Mercedes has been an offensive constant — and what a constant.
It's the kind of thing they expected from Jiménez, the kind of thing they wondered how they'd get with Jiménez spending months in recovery mode.
Well, they've gotten it from Mercedes. And every day he keeps hitting, he's showing them they might just be able to count on him for a lot longer than an early season 15 minutes of fame.
It's all been enough to send "M-V-P" chants raining down from the stands at Guaranteed Rate Field.
"I love my fans, every time and every moment," Mercedes said after Friday's game. "It’s so exciting when I connect on a hit or a homer. I’m so excited. I don’t know what more I need to do for my fans. I just want to make my fans happy.
"I want to win the MVP, just keep working hard every day. It’s too early, but I’m working on it. I’m so excited when they call me 'M-V-P.' We are working every day for that."