White Sox fans warming up to La Russa
Last Thursday, there was a breakthrough.
A good portion of another good crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field -- 27,098 -- was already on the Dan Ryan Expressway heading for home when the White Sox were trailing the Angels 9-3 in the ninth inning.
Seemingly no amount of $12 ballpark beers could make this game interesting, but those that stuck around got their money's worth soon after Sox reliever Mike Wright hit American League MVP favorite Shohei Ohtani with a pitch in the leg.
Wright was ejected, and manager Tony La Russa soon followed.
After going out, defending Wright and getting tossed by umpire Bill Welke, La Russa headed back to the White Sox's dugout while the crowd chanted "Tony! Tony! Tony!"
It was the loudest vocal support La Russa has received all season, and more is coming if the Hall of Fame manager stays on a similar path when the playoffs start in just over two weeks.
On Saturday, Wright was given a three-game suspension for hitting Ohtani. He is appealing.
La Russa was hit with a one-game suspension, which he served Saturday night.
There is no better way to gain love from the fan base than by forcefully taking a stand when Sox hitters get drilled.
Jose Abreu, the heart and soul of the White Sox's offense, was hit 19 times heading into Saturday's game against the Rangers. He avoided serious injury after being beaned by a pitch from Indians reliever James Karinchak on July 30.
There were plenty of chuckles when the 76-year-old La Russa came motoring out of the dugout to check on Abreu, but he was rightfully angry.
Last Tuesday, Sox center fielder Luis Robert was also lucky to survive being hit in the head by a pitch from Angels reliever Oliver Ortega.
La Russa understands pitchers have to throw inside to be successful, to a point.
"If you are going to throw the ball in, get it down," he said.
Taking a strong stand after Abreu and Robert were hit in the head cemented La Russa's solid standing in the White Sox's clubhouse.
It's also helped him gain the respect of Sox fans.
He might finish behind Dusty Baker, Kevin Cash, Charlie Montoyo, Alex Cora and Bob Melvin in AL Manager of the Year voting, but La Russa has shaken off a slow start and brought stability back to the Sox's dugout.
He's kept the White Sox on a steady course while dealing with one serious injury after another and set up the roster to be rolling at the right time of the year -- October.
La Russa was hired to get the Sox World Series rings, and he'll hear it from the critics if that doesn't happen.
The gut feeling here is La Russa's savvy and experience really show up in the postseason and give the White Sox a fighting chance to be the last team standing.