CHICAGO (AP) – Gradually, the recognition is coming for Bobby Jenks. Take what happened at a Thai restaurant the other night.

As he dined with his wife, two young children and in-laws, the Chicago White Sox closer got a wave and the thumbs-up sign from a guy on the sidewalk.

“That’s just something that I wasn’t expecting at the time,” Jenks said Monday. “It’s just nice knowing that everyone’s got the support here, and (the fans) are showing the kind of recognition for the ballclub we have.”

It’s hard to ignore Jenks, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound right-hander with a 100-mph fastball and a shoulder-to-knees curve. The same goes for the White Sox, who will open the AL championship series at home Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels or New York Yankees.

“Without him in the second half, I don’t know if we’d be here today,” said Mark Buehrle, scheduled to start Game 2 on Wednesday.

Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels in December, Jenks came to Chicago with a golden arm and a checkered reputation, yet the White Sox are counting on him. And they’re comfortable doing so.

Jenks, 24, began the season at Double-A Birmingham, jumped to the majors in July and became the closer after Dustin Hermanson’s back acted up late in the regular season. A starter in the Angels organization, he had six saves in eight opportunities, then closed two games against Boston in the division series.

And he has been a perfect fit in Chicago, where manager Ozzie Guillen playfully rubs his belly when he signals for Jenks.

“I don’t know how the Angels just let him go,” White Sox veteran Frank Thomas said.

They did so after five less-than-smooth minor league seasons that included disciplinary issues and elbow problems to go with the blazing fastball and knee-bending curve.

Then came elbow surgery in July 2004 and his release from the Angels.

While other teams passed, the White Sox took a chance.

“Everybody saw the plus-stuff; we didn’t pull off any kind of heist or anything,” general manager Ken Williams said. “We took a chance on a guy who was coming off of surgery, who had a steel rod in his arm, and got lucky.”

The other issues bothered Williams, but “we just felt that he was just as nutty as the rest of us around here, so he’d fit in.”

Pitching coach Don Cooper jokingly compared the White Sox to Boys Town, saying, “There is no such thing as a bad boy.”

Jenks said the problems are behind him.

His arm is fine and he’s more mature than he was a few years ago. He also said the off-the-field issues really weren’t that serious; they were just magnified because of his occupation.

“I don’t think I did anything out of character (for) any other 21-year-old,” Jenks said.

He said he’s different now.

“I’ve got responsibilities now, and I know which direction I need to head,” said Jenks, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.

The first sign that Jenks and the White Sox were a good fit came on the first day of spring training, when Williams asked the right-hander what he thought was the quickest route to the majors. Jenks said it was in relief, which was exactly what the general manager wanted to hear.

“I told him to go to Birmingham, show me he can throw every one of his pitches over the plate and I’d see him in Chicago at some point this summer. End of story,” Williams said.

Jenks simply wanted to ease the load on his arm.

When he started, his fastball often ranged from 93 to 96 mph. Now, it’s consistently in the high 90s.

Jenks first registered 100 pitching for Arkansas in the 2001 Texas League championship at Round Rock, where Nolan Ryan is an owner.

“It was like silence, and then the next pitch, 5,000 fans were yelling all at once,” Jenks said.

The noise level Tuesday night figures to be anything but silent. “He’s got toughness, heart and he’s pretty calm,” Cooper said. “He’s been in some pretty big moments for a 24-year-old guy coming up from Double-A.”

And he’s really handled it.”

AP-ES-10-10-05 2019EDT

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