CHICAGO -- On the night he set the rookie record for home runs in the opening month of the season, and gave the Chicago White Sox a dramatic 9-6 victory on a game-ending grand slam, Jose Abreu was offering his own congratulations.
It’s been obvious after 24 games what type of hitter Abreu is, but he just might be a better person.
"We had some great conversations," said Abreu, who also had a home run in the third inning for his third multihomer game of the young season. "We are both believers in God, and I want to take the opportunity to send Pujols congratulations for reaching 500 home runs. That’s a great accomplishment, and he deserves that and a lot more."
Pujols hit his 500th career home run earlier in the week and Abreu is starting to show he just might have what it takes to get there too one day.
In fact, Abreu’s second home run of Friday’s game gave him nine in the opening month of the season to set a rookie record. Pujols was one of three players, along with Carlos Delgado and Kent Hrbek, who had shared the mark. Abreu simply caught and passed the group in one night.
And when Abreu’s grand slam cleared the right-field fence off Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour, it also allowed him to tie the rookie record for RBIs in March/April with 27. He now shares that mark with Pujols, and there are still five games remaining before the calendar flips to May.
While it might have been a bit blasphemous this spring to compare Abreu to somebody like Pujols, the similarities are becoming clearer by the week, the game and the inning.
"You can’t script this, but you’re talking about [a] guy [Abreu] who is very professional about what he does,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s not a normal rookie that doesn’t know anything. He definitely knows what he’s trying to do. I’m glad he’s on our team."
Paul Konerko, who coaxed a key pinch-hit walk during the White Sox’s five-run, ninth-inning rally, has been impressed with Abreu from the outset.
"He’s a beast," Konerko said. "He’s big and strong, but he’s even a better hitter than how big and strong he is. He’s got a plan up there. I think calling him a rookie, that’s what he is as far as time, but I don’t look at him as a rookie. This guy’s 26, 27. He’s played at a high level of baseball in the WBCs [World Baseball Classic] and other places around the world. He’s done a lot this first month. He’s shown how good he is in a lot of different ways."
Considered by some a $68 million gamble when the White Sox signed him over the winter with little in-person scouting, Abreu now has the numbers to project as a complete bargain so far.
Adding to Abreu’s lore is that he went through a 1-for-25, seven-game stretch this season during which he started to look completely overmatched by off-speed pitches. He can still be vulnerable to breaking balls and changeups, but he is taking advantage of fastballs.
So when he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the White Sox down a run, the anticipation for something special was running high since fastballs figured to be on the menu.
"It's amazing. You feel like the whole place could kind of feel it," Adam Eaton said of Abreu’s trip to the plate. "When he got up, it was like, ‘Uh oh. Something great's going to happen,' and he did this."
For Ventura, it was the ideal hitter in that spot, especially with Balfour struggling and not in position to give up another walk after having already allowed three in the inning.
“There’s nothing [they] can do,” Ventura said. “I mean, we had that the other day with [Miguel] Cabrera. You get in there with the bases loaded. There’s nothing you can do. You eventually either have to get him to swing at something out of the zone or throw him a strike. He did get one on him, but he’s a good hitter. He’s just a really good hitter.”
Somehow, Abreu has remained modest despite all the early accomplishments, and what has helped was one of his early talks with Pujols.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” he said when asked about how he envisioned the start to his major league career. “As a matter of fact, I was talking to Pujols during spring training, and he told me, ‘Hey, don’t worry about hitting the home runs early in the season since it’s your first season and all that. Don’t worry about that. Things will come up.’ So I wasn’t trying to hit them. They have just happened. And, once again, I just have to thank God.”
Abreu is nowhere near 500 home runs, but perhaps Pujols might be offering his own congratulations soon for Abreu having taken some sage advice and running with it.