MINNEAPOLIS — The Chicago White Sox have been looking for a defining moment all season.
Luis Robert could have provided one with two outs in the fourth inning Thursday at Target Field.
Robert crushed a Sonny Gray slider, hitting him 452 feet for a grand slam.
It was a smash hit in the first game of a big four-game series before the All-Star break. Robert’s slam helped propel the Sox to a 12-2 victory in front of 26,907.
“He does it all,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said.
Robert had three hits and five RBIs, while starter Johnny Cueto allowed one run and seven hits in six innings as the Sox gained ground on the division-leading Twins, whom they trail by four games. The Sox remain a half-game behind the second-place Cleveland Guardians.
“Coming into that stretch of these last (few) series, we knew every game was going to matter because we were up against division rivals,” Robert said through an interpreter. “Our mentality has been to try to win every game and try to play our best.”
The Sox led 2-1 in the fourth and loaded the bases with one out on singles by Josh Harrison and Seby Zavala and a walk by Tim Anderson. Harrison’s shot was a line drive back to the mound that hit Gray near his right shoulder.
Yoán Moncada grounded to first and Luis Arraez threw to the plate to force the second out.
Robert made sure the Sox weren’t left empty-handed, hitting his 12th home run of the season on the third pitch of the at-bat. He had an exit speed of 111.2 mph. Robert said he was looking at the fastball but “I can make the adjustment.”
Robert drove in his fifth run with a single during a two-run sixth. Andrew Vaughn homered leading off the seventh. Seby Zavala hit a three-run homer off position player Nick Gordon in the ninth.
As good as Robert was at the plate, Cueto was equally impressive on the mound.
He came out of numerous jams throughout his outing, improving to 4-4 while lowering his ERA to 2.80.
“I think it was good,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “Sometimes you don’t feel very good, (Thursday) it was good. The offense supported me and I was able to throw six innings.”
The Twins loaded the bases with two outs in the first, but Alex Kirilloff grounded out to Harrison in the second. Cueto allowed one run in the second and the Twins had runners on the corners with no outs. Arraez flied out to left fielder AJ Pollock, who threw home and put Gio Urshela at the plate.
“When I saw that throw and the out at the plate, it motivated me,” Cueto said. “I said, now it’s my turn. That was the moment that gave me the energy.”
La Russa called it a “game-changing play.”
Cueto then struck out Carlos Correa.
Byron Buxton hit a triple leading off the third. Cueto kept it there, getting a fly ball to Anderson short, a strikeout and a groundout to Anderson.
The White Sox led 6-1 in the fifth, but the Twins had two on with two out. Jorge Polanco hit a fly ball to right, which Gavin Sheets caught near the warning track.
“Johnny is a bulldog and he always wants the next inning,” receiver Zavala said. “He always wants the ball.”
Cueto returned for the sixth and struck out to the side. He came out after 118 pitches.
“After the fifth he said ‘I’ve got more,’” La Russa said. “I said a guy gets to base, you’re out. Nobody got on base.”
La Russa said if it hadn’t been Cueto’s last start before the All-Star break, he wouldn’t have started for the sixth.
“I felt good at the time,” Cueto said.
Even with the game decided, there was a bit of drama at the end. After Gilberto Celestino hit a tapping that Zavala fielded and bunted for the final out, the benches briefly cleared.
“I think we all wanted to high five after the game,” Zavala joked. “End of the game, the benches came out. I just wanted to see how everyone was doing.”
The win was just the kind of overall performance the Sox needed.
“Celebrate until midnight and then we have Game 2 of the series,” La Russa said. “(The Twins are) in good shape. We have to accumulate victories”.