Cease halts White Sox skid with 13 K's

June 26th, 2022

CHICAGO -- If you enjoyed White Sox starter Dylan Cease’s masterful performance this past Tuesday against the Blue Jays, then you had to give two thumbs up to his sequel mound work Sunday in a 4-3 victory over the Orioles at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Cease set a career high with 13 strikeouts, giving him 24 over his last two starts covering 13 innings, as the White Sox broke a four-game losing streak. The win helped the White Sox avoid a four-game home sweep at the hands of the Orioles (34-40), but as the theme has been all season for the White Sox (34-37), it wasn’t as easy as it appeared it could be.

Usually sure-handed first baseman José Abreu committed two consecutive fielding errors to start the ninth, with Kendall Graveman on the mound and the White Sox holding a three-run lead. Graveman walked Jorge Mateo on four pitches to load the bases, and Jonathan Araúz’s single cut the lead to two and left the bases loaded still with nobody out.

But Graveman struck out pinch-hitter Rougned Odor, retired Cedric Mullins on a long sacrifice fly tracked down by center fielder Luis Robert and struck out Trey Mancini to preserve his third save and a much-needed White Sox victory. Pitching coach Ethan Katz visited the mound after the Mateo walk, but Graveman set the tone for the escape by calling the infield together after the first two miscues.

“You still got a game plan against each hitter. You are able to slow the game down and not get sped up,” Graveman said. “That’s why I called everyone in right there and said, ‘Hey, it’s fine. We still gotta win a baseball game.’

“No panic. Nobody’s fault. Hey, I’ll pick you up and do the best I can to pick you up. We’ll move forward and try to win this baseball game because the last thing we need is for it to get a little spirally and get out of control.”

Prior to that hair-raising ninth, the story was Cease (6-3). He has struck out 121 batters over his first 15 starts of 2022, which ranks as the third highest strikeout total by a White Sox pitcher in his first 15 starts of a season. His 13th double-digit strikeout game tied him with Javier Vázquez for fifth-most in White Sox history, and Cease became the first White Sox pitcher with 11-plus strikeouts in consecutive starts since Lucas Giolito struck out 13 in back-to-back starts on Aug. 20 and 25, 2020.

Baltimore hitters finished with 21 swings and misses, with 16 on Cease’s slider, giving him 114 swings and misses on the slider this season, which trails only Robbie Ray’s 128, per Statcast. Hitting that total of 13 for the new career high led to a usually low-key Cease firing up an energized home crowd as he left the field on a couple occasions.

“It was just such an electric moment after a strikeout. I just had to feed into it,” Cease said. “Over the hump, yeah. It was a great moment. A very happy moment."

“Dylan Cease, that’s a special one. That’s a great starting pitcher that we had a tough time with,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s elite stuff. I was happy we got four hits off him. Throwing 100 [mph] with a nasty slider and nasty curveball. Very difficult to hit against.”

Gavin Sheets homered in the second, marking the first White Sox long ball since they hit three Monday against the Blue Jays. Rookie Lenyn Sosa also came up with his first big league hit, which was a double to right off Jordan Lyles leading off the third.

They were part of a much-needed feel-good afternoon for the White Sox that suddenly changed to shock in that strange ninth. Even manager Tony La Russa, who has seen just about everything the game can throw at someone, had to laugh about the finish when he spoke to the media postgame.

“That was an unbelievable ninth,” La Russa said. “It wasn’t looking very good. But Graveman, he showed what a competitor [he is]. Reaching back like that, that was very special.”

“Just 'let’s get the win,'” said Sheets of what went through his mind in the ninth. “Things happen, and the sign of a good team is getting that win. Graveman was huge for us. That was great to pick up your teammate, that’s what you do. It happens to everybody. That was huge.”

“We found a way and that's the biggest thing,” Cease said. “José picks us up a lot more than he lets us down. He's out there grinding and we got it done."