CHICAGO -- If the Chicago White Sox thought ahead to the day their rebuilding plan would come together, they could not have envisioned what the scene looked like. But they will take it.
Riding the mix of power and athleticism that has fueled Chicago's sudden rise to the top of the American League, the White Sox came from behind to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 on a chilly day on the South Side on Thursday. In doing so, Chicago became the American League's first team to clinch a spot in this season's expanded playoff field. The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the National League bracket on Wednesday.
Fittingly, it was Jose Abreu who fueled the win, further adding to his burgeoning case for AL MVP consideration. His 17th homer to left field in the fourth tied the game at 1-apiece and sparked a roar from the White Sox's dugout that echoed through empty Guaranteed Rate Field before synthetic crowd noise joined the celebration.
The homer gave Abreu 50 RBIs in Chicago's 50 games, as he became the first player in the majors to reach 50 and the first player to do it in 50 games since Detroit's Miguel Cabrera in 2013. Abreu tied the game again in the seventh, this time legging out an infield single to plate Jarrod Dyson from third. That set up the winner, a line drive double to left by Eloy Jimenez to score pinch runner Yolmer Sanchez.
"For me, that was a really special moment," Jimenez said. "It's really fun, you know. At the beginning of the year, I would have been disappointed if we didn't make the playoffs. Now, we've made it, and we have to continue to play hard and win our division."
From there, the Chicago bullpen took it to the finish line, with Alex Colome retiring pinch hitter Williams Astudillo on a fly to center to end it. With the last out, the White Sox had made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
"Everybody in there is extremely happy," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "It's the culmination of a lot of hard work over the years. Hopefully, it's just a first step, and we continue to move forward."
But like so many things with this odd 2020 season, it didn't feel like the White Sox had clinched anything. They lined up and shook hands after the game, not unlike how they would after a normal win. There was a minor bout of celebrating in the dugout. The cardboard cutouts in the stands wavered in the stiff breeze. The, everyone adjourned to clubhouse for showers and Zoom calls conducted with interviewers and interviewees alike clad in face masks.
"Trust me," Renteria said. "Behind the mask, I'm smiling ear to ear."
Still, while they could not have foreseen that the circumstances would be so odd, this was the day the White Sox hoped for when, led by general manager Rick Hahn, they embarked on a full-on reset of the organization, starting with the blockbuster trade that sent former Chicago ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox.
What was already a four-year streak of losing seasons stretched to seven, including the franchise's first 100-loss season in nearly 50 years in 2018. But this season, the White Sox have emerged as one of baseball's most potent offensive teams and head into the stretch run with the AL's best record (33-17).
There through it all has been Abreu, who signed with Chicago out of Cuba in 2014. He led the AL in RBIs last season and on Thursday became the third White Sox player to drive in at least 50 in each of his first seven seasons with the club, joining Ray Durham and Willie Kamm.
Still, in the first season of Chicago's window of contention, the players know better than anyone that Thursday was but a first step.
"It was just a big hug [when I saw Abreu]," said shortstop Tim Anderson, who has also been with the White Sox for the bulk of the rebuild. "He's been here longer than me, but we've been here, and our hard work paid off. We're headed in right direction, but we've got to keep going."
There were no fans at Guaranteed Rate Field to see it. Only the players and coaches, a smattering of ballpark officials and stadium employees, a few members of the media. In a pandemic-free universe, the park would have been packed, but then again, the White Sox would have 150 games behind them and but five playoff spots to pursue. There is plenty left to prove.
"We're not done," Renteria said. "This is just one phase of it. Hopefully, we're continuing to be better."
Still, the destination is the one the organization aimed for: The White Sox are returning to October baseball.