Sox Top Twins: Playoff-style baseball returns to South Side originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
White Sox fans felt it.
The White Sox too.
Monday night brought playoff-style baseball to the South Side for the first time in a long time. Of course, it wasn’t the play-offs, as the post-season starts at the normally scheduled time. But for the first time since the start of their rebuilding project four years ago, the White Sox will play meaningful baseball in September. And the playoff feel has returned to the guaranteed rate field.
It feels like you live and die on every throw, outfielder Adam Engel said after the game. You have a lot of emotion with every pitch.
Many guys say that at the end of a playoff game, everyone is mentally and emotionally exhausted. Tonight wasn’t necessarily the real thing, but it felt reasonable on that.
Not only did the White Sox feel the intensity of playoff-style baseball on Monday night, they figured out what it takes to win games like that, with an entertaining 3-1 win. While the pitching staff danced out jam after jam, the bases were peppered all night with Minnesota Twins, White Sox’s powerful offense got a chance to add some heroism in the late inning. And that powerful line-up won the game on a chopped grounder on a withdrawn infield.
It might as well have been Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homer in the World Series, as how crazy the White Sox dugout went when Engel squared, pulled out and hacked a single into the middle, bringing Yon Moncada home from second base for the tie-breaking tally.
Before that, it was a lot of hits, a lot of walks, and a lot of nothing crossing home plate, a draw that all fouls could scratch. But the score lingered for so long, and the bases loaded with scoring opportunities only added to the intensity of the game. One mistake, and that could be it. Instead, White Sox pitching staff Dylan Cease and a quartet of relievers left 14 Twins behind and even got MVP candidate Nelson Cruz to load the bases twice.
For those of you who spent the evening on the edge of your seat at home, there were also some equally stressed observers in the baseball field. White Sox fans haven’t had a taste of actual playoff baseball in more than a decade. Many of the White Sox players have never played meaningful games in September or October.
But everyone had to live that Monday night.
That game was a great preview of what it would be like, Cease said. Every throw felt important, every game felt important. It was a really fun game to watch and be a part of.
And of course the opponent matters. Big time.
The White Sox entered the game on Monday-evening with the best record in the American League and a one-game lead over the Twins in the AL Central standings. And the Twins also came in red hot, the winners of 10 of their last 12. While the White Sox would certainly love to win the division crown, even if some downplay the importance of such a feat with the expanded playoff field, there was a even bigger thing staring them in the face: They came in on Monday with a 7-11 record against winning teams.
Whether they can win the division or not certainly depends on winning the Twins. But perhaps more importantly, they prove that they can make noise in October.
Well this was a great way to answer those questions. Obviously it doesn’t cure all their ailments against good teams. But that’s what this set of four games is for. The Twins are not just a good team, a hot team and a playoff caliber team. They are the ruling Central Champs.
To be the best, you have to be the best, as they say.
It’s huge because here in recent history, as we’ve fared against the Twins, they kind of look like the big, bad Twins, said relief pitcher Evan Marshall, who knocked out Cruz with the bases loaded in the sixth. But they were killing the ball now, and I think they should at least look a little intimidated across the street while the lineup was rolling there.
Everyone knows this is basically playoff baseball when we started playing against the Twins in late September. Tonight was huge. You can’t put enough emphasis on starting this series with a win.
As Rick Hahn has pointed out on many occasions, this reconstruction project is a long-term effort. While fans will obviously be fixated on winning in the here and now, just like the players, nights like Monday are important by the way, not just setting up this White Sox for the rest of the 2020 regular season and the playoffs that follow. , but also for the hoped-for years of playoff-style baseball.
So many of these youngsters have never been to this type of environment before, haven’t experienced the intensity of high-stakes September baseball.
Well, they definitely get a taste of it now. And three more nights are coming up against these Gemini.
“If you play these games late in the season against another playoff team, I think you should just get a sense of what baseball will be like in the playoffs,” Engel said. “We have a young team, and we have a lot of guys who have the experience, but we have a lot of young players who have never played in playoffs, including myself.
“I think if we can really play baseball well over the next three days, I think that will help our confidence to get into the playoffs.”
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