“Never give in. Never give up.”
That was what White Sox manager Tony La Russa said when a reporter asked him to sum up the first half of the season.
When a team is 19 games over .500 with an eight-game division lead at the halfway mark, it’s not a particularly remarkable anecdote. There are always good teams, and someone always has to be in first place. That’s just sports.
So while “baseball team meets expectations” isn’t much of a show-stopping headline, how the White Sox managed to meet those expectations certainly is.
You know the story. Two of the team’s most important hitters, ripped from the lineup. An MVP struggling gravely through April and June. A season-ending hamstring tear for an up-and-coming star. Mid-season knee surgery for an All-Star caliber catcher. And about a dozen other IL stints that should have cost the White Sox at least a handful of wins.
There are some obvious answers as to how the White Sox pulled off one of the best first-halves in franchise history. Excellent starting pitching clearly helped. All-Star Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada performed well enough to kept the team afloat, too. But two things that allowed the White Sox to achieve the best record in the American League 89 games into the season are depth and resilience. Each were on display in the team’s 7-5 extra-innings win and series sweep of Baltimore on Sunday.
“Well, we put it right there with resilience, relentlessness,” La Russa said after the game. “I mean, you get your heartbroken, you're two outs, nobody on. … All of sudden, ‘boom, boom,’ and you're tied, and then you got to go into the [10th inning.] But I [say] this to you all the time, the spirit [of] the club, in the in the dugout, in the top of the 10th, there was no frustration, discouragement, giving in. I just think it's a real good example of how tough-minded we are…”
As for depth, that was shown on Sunday, too. Rookie Andrew Vaughn, who was only added to the 40-man roster after Eloy Jiménez went down in spring training, homered twice for 4 RBI in the contest. Adam Engel, who returned from a hamstring injury three games ago, went deep in the 10th inning to win the game on a three-run shot.
A fitting conclusion to an expectedly unexpected whale of a first half.
“Everything here is for the team, and it's been ‘next man up,’” Vaughn said after the game. “We've had a lot of guys go down, and [we] just gotta be there for the team and do what you can. And it's pretty special.”
“Never give in. Never give up,” La Russa said. “Rely on everybody in uniform because everybody's going to be needed.”
It’s a philosophy the White Sox proved true over the last few months, making it crystal clear that a roster running 40 men deep is a tough team to crack.