History was just an out away: Cease nearly no-hits Twins

September 4th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Two outs in the ninth inning, two strikes away and only Luis Arraez separated Dylan Cease from history in a 13-0 White Sox victory over the Twins before 31,655 fans Saturday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The White Sox right-hander had kept the Twins hitless through 8 2/3 innings, striking out Caleb Hamilton on four pitches and retiring Gilberto Celestino on a first-pitch flyout to center fielder Adam Engel to open the final frame. But on a 1-1 slider that got just a little too much of the plate, the American League’s leading hitter dumped a single to right-center to prevent Cease from becoming the 21st pitcher in franchise history to throw a no-hitter or a perfect game.

A stoic Cease said postgame he had a pretty good idea upon contact that Arraez’s line drive with a Statcast-measured 100.7 mph exit velocity was falling safely, and his mindset was on to the next hitter. As for his teammates? Their reactions came with one part regret, and one part respect for his dominance.

“Extremely tough,” said White Sox second baseman Romy Gonzalez, whose first career home run contributed to the blowout. “It doesn't get much closer than that. It was definitely tough. Nevertheless he threw an outstanding game."

“No. Why did he do that?” catcher Seby Zavala said of his reaction upon contact by Arraez. “I think it was a pretty good pitch. Dylan pitched one hell of a game and it was fun to be a part of it.”

Cease has been one of the best pitchers in baseball throughout the 2022 season. Although he somehow was not selected as an AL All-Star, he’s a frontrunner for the Cy Young Award along with pitchers such as Justin Verlander, Shane McClanahan, Alek Manoah and Shohei Ohtani. He made a national statement Saturday, during a game televised by FOX.

It was a slightly atypical, although extremely economical start for Cease (13-6), who didn’t record his first strikeout until getting Gio Urshela in the fifth. He only needed 40 pitches to get through four innings, 50 to get through five and 71 to get through six.

Jake Cave walked leading off the third and Celestino walked with two outs in the sixth. Cease was so dominant that Twins manager Rocco Baldelli pulled Carlos Correa and Max Kepler from the lineup in the fifth with a seven-run deficit.

In true ace form, Cease had quite a finishing kick to reach seven strikeouts in his second career shutout, including fanning Kyle Garlick to end this work of mound art.

“I kind of felt I didn't have my sharpest stuff early. And then once I got to the fifth, I started to have a better feel,” said Cease, who became the first White Sox pitcher with a one-hitter to lose his no-hit bid in the ninth since Dennis Lamp on Aug. 25, 1981, at Milwaukee. “Their plan was to get to me early and not get to two strikes. It helped me keep my pitch count down, for sure.”

“You were going to have to really look for the ball in certain zones, and with guys that are throwing the ball like that, you have to almost anticipate what they’re going to do in order to put yourself in position to put a good swing on it,” Baldelli said. “We had a couple of good swings, but overall, he was just really good.”

There was no shortage of offense in support of Cease, as Eloy Jiménez’s three-run home run to right-center punctuated a four-run first inning off Minnesota starter Tyler Mahle. Elvis Andrus added a grand slam during a six-run eighth off infielder Nick Gordon, whose trip to the mound iced Cease for a bit.

But that rally simply prolonged the inevitable. The White Sox (67-66) have won four straight and have moved within two games of the Guardians (68-63) and one game of the Twins (67-64) in the AL Central, picking up four in the standings during this winning streak.

Having a pitcher of Cease’s stature on the mound helps the cause. He recorded 14 swings and misses, according to Statcast, and nine on his slider, coming within one out of hitless baseball.

“He's always got a chance to throw a no-hitter, and it just felt different today getting warmed up,” Zavala said. “It just felt like something was in the air.”

“I was going to empty the tank and give everything I got,” Cease said of his ninth inning approach. “It’s an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. It definitely would have meant a lot.”