CHICAGO -- Ron Kittle's magic rookie season of 1983 now has an equal, at least when it comes to power and run production, and Jose Abreu still has two weeks worth of games remaining to raise the bar even further.
Abreu tied Kittle’s Chicago White Sox rookie record of 35 home runs with a ninth-inning blast that closed the margin slightly in an eventual 6-4 defeat to the Minnesota Twins. On Saturday he matched Kittle’s 100 RBIs from that same ’83 year.
Abreu's strength had appeared to diminish over the last month and a half, but his home run Sunday gave him long balls in back-to-back games for the first time since early June.
“He's a good hitter so this isn't a surprise that he hit a home run,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He's been pretty consistent just as a hitter. The power's going to be there. He went through a little stretch where he wasn't hitting many home runs, but it's there.
“That's part of him learning to go through a full season. I didn’t see it, as when he went through it he wasn't going to come back. Right now, he's as good as anybody in the league.”
Where Kittle was the prototypical power hitter, Abreu has an overall hitting approach that has few equals. Abreu’s .322 batting average, .384 on-base percentage and .604 slugging percentage are well above what Kittle posted in ’83, and are also far better across the board than most American League hitters this season.
“I’m happy and proud of what has happened, how I’ve played this season,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “Thankful to God that I’ve been able to play and work the way I have and accomplish some of the things I have this season.”
Asked if he has met Kittle, Abreu confessed that he still is trying to put the names to all the faces in the organization.
“All my respect goes to Ron Kittle,” Abreu said. “Unfortunately, I’ve met so many people that I’m sorry I don’t recall having met him, but my respects to him for having had the rookie year he had. Now that we share a record, I’m really proud of the accomplishment.”
It isn’t out of the question that Abreu can reach the 40-homer plateau with 13 games remaining, but the way he approaches each at-bat, going deep rarely is his highest priority.
Perhaps Paul Konerko said it best when describing Abreu. Konerko was marveling at Abreu’s 14-pitch walk from Saturday night that set up the game-winning rally in the ninth inning. The get-on-base-by-any-means-necessary strategy that Abreu used is of the same mindset that Konerko always tried to use.
“He’s a better hitter than he is a power hitter and he’s a heck of a power hitter too, so that’s the way I look at him,” Konerko said. “He’s not just a slugger.”
The torch already has been passed from Konerko to Abreu as the head of the White Sox’s offense, but Konerko officially will relinquish any grasp he has remaining when he retires after two weeks. Abreu already has shown that the heart of the order now is in good hands.
“He knows the situations and knows what is called for,” Konerko said. “I love it because I feel like I’ve tried to play my whole career like that, where you have these different moments where there are two outs and nobody on in the third inning, you let it fly and maybe you strike out. You have a guy on third and less than two outs, you know how to hit a ground ball to the infield and get this guy in. You have all these different types of gears in your swing, or you hope you do.”
In Abreu’s case he really does have all those gears, even this late in the season when it once seemed that some of those gears had been stripped.