July 7, 2022

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'Awe-inspiring' Robert homers, robs hit and steals two

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CHICAGO — There aren’t many moments when White Sox closer Liam Hendriks finds himself unable to fire off a clever and witty response.

But one of those moments took place following a 3-2 White Sox victory over the Mariners on Tuesday in their home opener at Guaranteed Rate Field, as he was asked a question about Luis Robert’s immense talent.

Robert saved two runs in the third inning with a running catch on Jesse Winker’s long fly ball to center field, drove home the go-ahead run in the sixth with a 408-foot home run to right-center and then manufactured an important insurance run in the eighth by drawing a leadoff walk, swiping second and third base and scoring when Eloy Jiménez beat out a would-be double play grounder.

So Hendriks, who picked up his 39th career save with the White Sox, was asked if there’s a special name for the trifecta Robert pulled off before a sellout crowd of 36,948 fans. It was at that point when Hendriks was stumped.

“I need to think of a name,” Hendriks said. “If you strike out the side on three different pitches, we have the natural hat trick as a pitcher. I’ll work on it. You could say the [Mike] Trout, I guess. He’s done it enough.”

The baserunning might have been the most impressive, or rather newest, tool for Robert, who entered the season 15-for-18 overall in the stolen base category. Robert suffered a torn right hip flexor last May against Cleveland and when he returned in August, the White Sox gave him a red light to protect his health.

This season presents a different story. It’s only four games, of which the White Sox have won three, but Robert leads the Majors with four steals. No White Sox player has ever reached 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same campaign, but that might soon change.

“That’s what I’ve done throughout my whole career in the U.S.,” said Robert of his stolen bases, through interpreter Billy Russo. “That’s what everybody has seen from me. I expect to keep doing that as much as I can.”

Robert said the eighth-inning steal of third with Diego Castillo on the mound was his call.

“It was perfectly set up for me,” Robert said. “I was checking his timing the two pitches before that, and I just thought it was perfect timing for me to take off.”

“He’s maturing, and he’s growing,” said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. “He’s got a chance to be one of the best in the game as long as he keeps working. But what he did today is definitely — you don’t see that every day. I think that shows how special he is and how special he can really be.”

Winker had connected on a 1-2 four-seam fastball from White Sox starter Vince Velasquez after Adam Frazier and Ty France had drawn walks. The Mariners held a 1-0 lead with one out in the top of the third at the time, so the complexion of the game could have changed without Robert’s running grab.

After snaring Winker’s drive — which had an .860 expected batting average per Statcast — Robert did a half-leap into the wall to stop himself. It was a somewhat worrisome moment, especially with Robert’s recent injury history and the maladies the White Sox are dealing with as a team, but he wasn’t worried.

“When you’re on the field, you don’t think about that,” Robert said. “When you are on the field, you just think of doing your job. Injuries, that’s something that you can’t control. That’s part of the game.

“Before the catch, I was aware of the wall. And then, when you know that, I think you’re able to adjust. It’s not going to take you by surprise. I was aware of where the wall was, and I was aware on the play. I feel good.”

Robert’s sixth-inning homer off Mariners starter Matt Brash had a 110.4 mph exit velocity and an xBA of .990, per Statcast. His line drive to shortstop J.P. Crawford in the third, which turned into an inning-ending double play, had a higher exit velocity of 111.7 mph.

Even when Robert doesn’t succeed, he still possesses the style and skillset of a superstar.

“He showed a lot of why he’s so special,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “The play, the bullet to right-center, base hits, the stolen bases. He showed a lot of it.”

“Watching him play is pretty awe-inspiring,” Hendriks said. “He’s just one of the most talented people I’ve ever been around.”

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