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Yasmani Grandal's welcome-back party powers Sox past Cubs

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Yasmani Grandal

So Yasmani Grandal got thrown out of a Triple-A game during a rehab assignment.

Grandal returned to the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, exploding for four hits, two homers and a franchise-record eight RBIs in a bonkers 17-13 win over the Crosstown-rival Chicago Cubs.

But everything you need to know about what his presence means to the White Sox happened a night earlier in Charlotte, when he lasted just one at-bat in the final game of his stint working his way back from knee surgery.

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"Actually it goes back to Tuesday," Grandal explained with a smile on his face after Friday's game. "The umpires just had a really bad game. After the game, as they were walking down the tunnel, I just let them know: 'Hey, you guys had a really good day today.' Guy that was at third base (that night) apparently really didn't like it. He was behind the plate yesterday.

"I struck out (in the first inning). I turned around, didn't look at him, and I told myself that that was a really bad at-bat, not quite that way, but I didn't scream it out loud, I said it under my breath. He thought I was talking to him, and that's why he threw me out.

"No matter if I'm playing in the minor leagues or the big leagues, if I'm catching, that's my staff. That's the way I see it. When I first signed here, I said I don't like to lose, whether I'm on a rehab start or — I don't really care where I'm at, I don't like to lose. I'm very competitive, and I'm going to do whatever it takes."

 

That's the guy the White Sox got back Friday night, a guy who said he was putting in 12- and 13-hour days to work his way back in what seemed like lightning-quick fashion, given the circumstances, even if he did miss nearly two months. That's the guy who will be playing a big role as the White Sox chase their championship-level goals over the final month of the regular season and into the postseason.

Grandal had a massive game Friday night, coming through over and over again as the hits and runs piled up for both teams.

After Dallas Keuchel gave up six runs in the top of the first inning, it was Grandal's three-run blast that completed the comeback two innings later, a bomb into The Goose Island that set Guaranteed Rate Field off.

No fan's reaction, though, was as good as that of Eloy Jiménez, who from his spot on the dirt as the runner at second turned and watched the home-run ball fly, raising his hands in the air, jumping up and down and letting out an ebullient yell. Jiménez likes playing the Cubs, of course. He probably likes beating them more. But he was representative of the excitement level these White Sox have over their catcher's return.

Grandal, you'll recall, was the team's hottest hitter when he crumpled to the ground on a Minnesota night in early July. His combination of on-base skills, home-run power and clutch hitting had him playing tone-setter. Perhaps he's not the kind of top-of-the-lineup spark plug Tim Anderson is, but hitting coach Frank Menechino pointed to Grandal's imminent presence Thursday as a boon for a lineup that had been struggling in the approach department, a patient bat that can impact the everyone else in the lineup.

The White Sox didn't need Grandal to blast four homers Thursday and hang double digits on an above-.500 Toronto Blue Jays team. But he drove in nearly half of the 17 runs they scored Friday night. His three-run homer was the biggest blast of a ridiculous eight-run third inning for the White Sox, and he drove in two more with a double two innings later. After adding a single in the seventh, he smacked his second three-run shot of the game as a loud insurance policy in the eighth.

Eight RBIs in his first game back, just the sixth time in franchise history someone drove in that many in a single game.

"Evidently he's been doing a lot of work," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "His swing was on time. He had huge, huge production. It was really impressive. You don't do that automatically. He's been working."

 

As important as Grandal is to the White Sox as an individual — in addition to being an incredibly productive bat, he works wonders with the pitching staff and was behind the plate for Reynaldo López's five perfect innings in relief of Keuchel on Friday — his return represented something bigger.

While Adam Engel is still working his way back from his third injured-list trip of the season, Grandal made the White Sox' lineup as whole as it's been all season. The projected group, minus the traded Nick Madrigal, is together for the first time now that Grandal, Jiménez and Luis Robert are all back from their respective injury recoveries.

"It means a lot," Grandal said. "Now that we have everybody back, it's just a matter of getting accustomed to each other and accustomed to the lineup and the guys out on the field. And it's only going to get better from here on out."

When you add the impact of Grandal, Jiménez and Robert to what Anderson, José Abreu and Andrew Vaughn have been doing all year, you get a lineup that looks a lot like the potent force plenty expected this offense to be before the season began.

If the bats can match what a dominant starting rotation has done to carry the White Sox to this point, then look out. You've got a postseason favorite.

Of course, these White Sox aren't ones to think that far ahead, and Grandal, a veteran of numerous playoff runs, will be among the first to tell you the team needs to do things one step at a time, just like the general manager who signed him to the biggest free-agent deal in franchise history two offseasons ago. Rick Hahn spent his own media session Friday laying out that the White Sox will be spending September focusing on winning the American League Central, whether or not that's been a near given since June.

The White Sox obviously have that goal in mind, and they'll celebrate heartily upon winning the club's first division title in 13 years. But they have bigger goals in mind, too, and the best way to set up for October success is to be playing their best baseball at September's end.

Grandal's arrival can help assure they're doing just that.

And you know he's going to do whatever it takes — including getting tossed from a minor league rehab game — to put his team in the best position to get to the promised land.

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