OAKLAND – This is everything they hoped it would be, even if it’s not what they thought it would look like.
There won’t be any fans sitting in RingCentral Coliseum around 12 PM local time in Oakland when the White Sox take the field for their first playoff game since October of 2008. It’s a reward for being able to win a Wild Card spot in an eight-team playoff for a 60-game regular season.
But no matter the pandemic circumstances, this is a dream in the making since December of 2016 when the trade of Chris Sale indicated the desire for Rick Hahn to rebuild the team through prospects.
One of those players acquired was Lucas Giolito, who has a part of the Adam Eaton trade with the Washington Nationals after the Sale deal with the Red Sox. Like this era itself, he’s endured some difficult days while enjoying recent success that’s led to his first postseason appearance.
Giolito gets the ball in Game 1 of the three-game Wild Card series in Oakland, joining many others in the first playoff game of his career. Despite its significance, the pitcher’s not getting nostalgic.
“Now it’s time to go to work. This is what we played for,” said Giolito. “Now that we’re here, it’s a brand new season. Everything we did up to this point doesn’t matter anymore.”
For a rather motivated White Sox group, that appears to be the case across the board, though the team did a lot in the regular season. They finished the shortened 60-game campaign 35-25 and were the best team in the American League for parts of the season.
Their explosive power on offense provided some memorable moments, with Jose Abreu (.317, 19 homers, 60 RBI) and Tim Anderson (.322, 10 homers, 21 RBI) making cases for the MVP award while Luis Robert (11 homers, 31 RBI) is in the running for rookie of the year.
The center fielder, like the rest of the team, had a slump at the end of the year, which has them on the road for this Wild Card series instead of at Guaranteed Rate Field. Yet Anderson, like Giolito, isn’t really that concerned with so much on the line right away.
“It’s a fresh start,” said Anderson. “Yesterday ended the regular season. Now it’s time to really dig in and continue to work and keep rallying around one another. It’s ‘Do or Die,’ so I think that’s going to play a role in guys heads.
“Every pitch matters.”
Especially with just one loss creating an elimination game in this unique round of the playoffs necessitated by expanded 16-team postseason in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For a franchise dealing with an over decade-long playoff drought and still bringing along young players, getting this far is an achievement worth celebrating.
Yet some are anxious for the team to make a major push for their first World Series championship in 15 years. Rick Renteria believes that thought is permeating though his clubhouse before his biggest moment so far as a manager in the majors.
“Everyone in that clubhouse is willing and able and desires to do whatever it takes to move forward,” said Renteria. “In a lot of instances you’ve got to put your ego aside for the better of the team and I think they do that. They’re fighting to want to prove to everybody what they’re capable of doing as a team.
“They’re very loose, they’re very relaxed, looking very much forward to this series. We’re hoping it’s going to be something very, very positive.”
Just as Hahn and the White Sox might have envisioned nearly four years ago.