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White Sox claim A-L Central Division Championship

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Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks celebrates after the White Sox clinched the American League Central title by defeating the Cleveland Indians in the first baseball game of a doubleheader, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Tony La Russa stood in the visiting dugout, soaking in the scene as the Chicago White Sox celebrated their first AL Central title since 2008.

The Hall of Fame manager came out of retirement for moments like this.

“It’s like fantasy island because you never thought you’d have this chance — and here we are, the division champions,” La Russa said after a 7-2 victory over Cleveland in a doubleheader opener Thursday. “I’m glad the guys were able to win the first game today and not delay it. They did it the first time they had the chance to.”

A wild-card team last season, the White Sox are going to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time. Chicago is in their first season under La Russa, who turns 77 on Oct. 4.

La Russa retired after guiding St. Louis to the 2011 World Series title, then was hired to replace Rick Renteria last October.

“I think we got the right guy,” said Tim Anderson, who hit two home runs. “I’m pleased with the way he’s handled everything and been part of the family. It’s a blessing to go out and be able to clinch it today.”

Chicago (86-66) moved into first place for good on May 7. The White Sox have not advanced in the postseason since winning the 2005 World Series and last hosted a playoff game 13 years ago.

Anderson hit his fifth leadoff home run of the season and added a three-run drive in the second for his sixth career multi-homer game. Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez hit consecutive homers in the second as Chicago grabbed a 7-0 lead off Aaron Civale (11-5).

“We wanted it a lot more than they did and we jumped on them,” Anderson said. “It was an exciting moment, being able to put your team up right away, and I appreciated the chance to do it.”

Aaron Bummer (4-5) retired all three batters in the fifth as four White Sox relievers combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a game shortened to seven innings under pandemic rules.

Closer Liam Hendriks struck out Myles Straw to end the game, setting off a celebration in front of the visiting dugout that featured players saluting the several hundred White Sox fans at Progressive Field.

“I really liked that I was able to blow somebody’s doors off for the final out,” Hendriks said. “It was good to get the cat off our back, so to speak, right away. It’s a family here and we’re just going around, hugging everybody.”

César Hernández, who began the season with Cleveland, went 3 for 3 to reach 1,000 hits. Anderson had three hits, while Robert reached base three times and drove in a pair.

“This is the first time the White Sox have gone to the playoffs two years in a row, which blows my mind, by the way,” Hendriks said. “Winning the division is the first step. No matter what, we want to win our last game this year. That’s the goal.”

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