José Abreu is finishing up his eighth year with the White Sox. In those years, he has grown into a Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and 2020 American League MVP. Additionally, he has become widely respected among his teammates, opposing players, and fans for his leadership, work ethic, competitive spirit, and charity work for children with special needs.
It goes without saying that White Sox fans know a lot about José Abreu. Therefore, it is meaningful when the vast majority of online chatter among White Sox fans features an agreement that Abreu has never appeared to be as angry on a baseball field as he was during Monday’s benches-clearing incident with the Tigers.
For those who are unaware, Abreu was hit by a pitch for the 21st time this season in the 9th inning of Chicago’s 8-7 victory over Detroit. Later in the inning, he slid hard into second base, which prompted some comments from Tigers players and a benches-clearing fracas. After the game, Tigers pitcher Alex Lange claimed that Abreu was “leaning out over the plate” and that the pitch was unintentional.
I am not writing this to opine on Lange’s intent — simply put, it seems fairly clear that the pitch was both unintentional and that Abreu was not leaning over the plate. What is lost on Tigers fans and/or general baseball fans is the context surrounding Abreu’s season and career. When viewed in a vacuum, I can understand why Abreu’s reactions to yesterday’s events would seem strange. The particular hit-by-pitch was not egregious relative to some of Abreu’s others this season. To a baseball fan that does not know much about Abreu’s demeanor, Monday’s events might appear to just be a hotheaded player overreacting.
But José Abreu, the White Sox’ disciplined, stoic leader, is anything but hotheaded. This is precisely why his reactions on Monday were so surprising. Yet, they were understandable. Far too often this year, Abreu has taken a fastball off the arm, leg, or even his head, only to shake it off and jog to first base. Even a reserved, level-headed player like Abreu is liable to crack at some point, and being hit by a fastball on an 0-2 count in the 9th inning of a Monday afternoon make-up game is what set him over the edge.
My concern at this point is with the team’s health for the rest of the season. The White Sox have had at least some good fortune with respect to outcomes on hit-by-pitches lately; for example, in the same series that Mike Wright was ejected and suspended for hitting Shohei Ohtani with a pitch, Luis Robert took a fastball to the head but stayed in the game. Of course, José Abreu was hit in that series, too.
After Monday’s game, Miguel Cabrera gazed out at the celebrating White Sox in a manner that resembled Willians Astudillo’s glare the night of the infamous Yermin Mercedes 3-0 swing. Of course, the Twins threw at Mercedes the next day. The White Sox and Tigers play three games in Chicago beginning on Friday, and all I want is for the series to be free of drama or a beanball war. I am not worried about suspensions — much like Jimmy Cordero at the end of the 2020 season, any suspension would likely be pushed into the 2022 regular season.
Instead, I am only concerned that the White Sox, in an attempt to retaliate and defend Abreu, will just continue the streak of hit-by-pitches at what is pretty much the worst possible time. Dallas Keuchel expressed such a desire, although Monday’s outing was his final start of the 2021 season (it is worth noting that he could feasibly get some relief work against Detroit to eat innings and/or stay fresh).
But with just a week to go until the playoffs, it would not make sense for the White Sox to engage in such activities. The Tigers have nothing to lose, as their season will end on Sunday no matter what. The White Sox, on the other hand, should not press their luck and hope that any further hit-by-pitches — whether at Abreu or anybody else — avoid injuring a player right before the playoffs begin. As much as the team should be commended for wanting to protect its unofficial captain after a season of abuse, now would simply be the worst time to act.
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