Kopech flirts with perfection, K's 10 in 'unstoppable' start

May 20th, 2023

CHICAGO -- On the opening pitch of ’s Friday night masterpiece against the Royals, the White Sox right-hander almost hit Bobby Witt Jr. in the head.

Fortunes decidedly improved over his next 97 pitches.

Kopech retired the first 16 Royals and allowed one hit over a career-high eight innings to lead the White Sox to a 2-0 victory at Guaranteed Rate Field. Kansas City's lone hit came with one out in the sixth, when Michael Massey lofted a broken bat single just over the head of first baseman Andrew Vaughn off a 2-2 four-seam fastball at 98.4. mph.

With 10 strikeouts and no walks, Kopech still faced the minimum 24 hitters.

It was just the 73rd time in AL/NL history (since 1900) that a team has faced the minimum 27 batters in a nine-inning game despite allowing a hit. The last time the White Sox did it was July 21, 2004 against Cleveland with Mark Buehrle tossing nine innings of two-hit ball.

Friday’s performance marked Kopech’s second longest perfect-game bid, following up his 5 2/3 innings thrown at Yankee Stadium on May 22, 2022 before a Rob Brantly double. (third save) retired the side in order in the ninth, making the White Sox (17-29) the first team to face the minimum in a 9-inning game since John Means’ no-hitter for the Orioles on May 5, 2021.

“I knew that it was in the works,” said Kopech of the perfect game attempt. “I wasn’t really focused on it. I was able to go right back to work because I wasn’t focused on it. I missed my location and he got a hit. That’s part of the game. I wasn’t perfect and it showed.”

“The fastball was jumping, getting on you for sure,” said Massey, who is a local product from Palos Park, Ill. “And then he obviously paired it with his changeup and his slider. Just did a really good job attacking the top of the zone.”

At 98 pitches, Kopech bargained for the ninth inning, although White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said without hesitation that the ninth for Kopech was not a consideration. But would that thought process have changed if the perfect game was still going?

“Yes,” said Grifol directly.

“Almost just grabbed my glove and ran out there and waved off Graveman,” said a smiling Kopech.

Of course, Kopech (2-4) understood. He last pitched on May 12 against Houston, when he walked six over 4 2/3 innings. He had six days in between starts, with the White Sox targeting an extra day for Kopech, but he knows starts on regular rest await him after Friday.

“Working over 100 pitches is hard to bounce back from,” Kopech said. “Definitely understood the move as much as I wanted it.”

“He’s got a great fastball and when he’s commanding it like the way he was tonight, he’s unstoppable,” White Sox catcher Seby Zavala said. “We always talk about how good his fastball is and tonight it showed.”

According to Statcast, Kopech threw his four-seamer on 66 of his 98 pitches. He mixed in 20 sliders, opting for his shorter slider rather than his sweeper, per Zavala’s recommendation during pregame planning and also used seven changeups.

His fastball averaged 96.6 mph and topped out at 99.4, while producing a season-high 22 swings and misses. Kopech went to three-ball counts just four times all night against the Royals (14-32).

“It looked like he had good carry on the fastball,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “We just couldn't catch up to it.”

“That fastball just has another gear when it gets up close to you,” Grifol said. “Felt strong. Felt good. Pounded the strike zone. He's got that kind of stuff. Today he showed us what he can be.”

Following that first pitch to Witt, the Royals didn’t really have a chance. Actually, that entire first at-bat was a bit of a game-changer if a game can change before it really starts, as Kopech went to 2-0 and 3-1 counts before Witt chased out of the zone twice resulting in a groundout.

Getting through that opening sequence showed Kopech’s mound composure, in a start potentially pointing his immense talent and this ‘23 season in the right direction.

“I was able to find something that clicked tonight, both physically and mentally,” Kopech said. “The main thing that I talk about with Pedro is being mentally in control out there. I felt like I was able to do that.

“Mechanical things are always going to be daily tweaks that I can work on. But the mentality has to be something that I work on away from the park, no matter where I'm at. I'm certainly hoping that I can take this one with me the rest of the season."