CHICAGO -- Lance Lynn shut out the Royals, saved the White Sox bullpen and helped make the team’s home opener a celebratory affair during a 6-0 victory Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field. The right-hander also issued a postgame challenge of sorts to the rest of Chicago's talented rotation after becoming the first starter to pitch at least six innings in the 2021 campaign.
“Yeah, starters the first time-and-a-half through the rotation, we haven’t done what we’re expected to do and are capable of,” said Lynn after picking up his first victory. “So we’ve been talking about it.
“It’s in their court. I started it.”
Lynn, who was acquired from Texas in an offseason trade for Dane Dunning, had a perfect game through four innings and allowed just five singles with only two baserunners reaching as far as second base. He struck out 11 in his 111-pitch outing, and didn’t issue a walk in a thoroughly dominant performance for his second career shutout and fourth career complete game.
He also recorded the first complete game in a White Sox home opener since Britt Burns did so on April 19, 1985, vs. Boston -- during Tony La Russa’s first managerial run on the South Side -- as well as the first shutout in a home opener since Wilbur Wood on April 9, 1976, vs. Kansas City. Lynn is the first pitcher in American League history to throw a shutout with 10-plus strikeouts and no walks in his team's home opener.
But in a strange twist heard often from dominant pitchers, Lynn didn’t feel so dominant from the outset.
“No, typical, felt terrible [in the bullpen], had good success [later] to be honest with you,” Lynn said. “As the game went on, rain showers and things, once I got to build the pitch count up I started to get loose and everything felt pretty good.”
“Obviously he threw the ball really well. I felt like he’s got quite a few pitches that come out pretty much looking the same," said Royals outfielder Michael A. Taylor of Lynn. “That can make it tough. And he was around the zone just about all night, mixing speeds and pitches. He threw the ball well. Felt like we had some good at-bats, just not at the right times.”
The White Sox (4-4) waited out a two-hour, 12-minute delay before Lynn struck out the side in the first. The South Siders then put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first via back-to-back homers from Yoán Moncada and Yermín Mercedes. Moncada’s opposite-field blast traveled 421 feet, but that drive seemed like a mere popup compared to Mercedes’ 485-foot shot to left-center field.
Mercedes’ homer represents the third longest hit by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, trailing only Joe Borchard (504 feet vs. the Phillies on Aug. 30, 2004) and Frank Thomas (495 feet vs. the Twins on July 23, 2002).
This contest was more about Lynn’s sheer dominance, as the White Sox improved to 3-1 in their last four games and 10-1 against the Royals in their last 11 games dating back to the 2020 season. Lynn recorded 17 swings and misses on four different pitches, per Statcast, and despite sitting at 97 pitches after eight innings, he never had any doubt about going back for the ninth.
“There wasn’t much of a conversation,” Lynn said. “[La Russa] looked at me and said, ‘Are you good?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to finish it. Does that sound good?’ And he said, 'Yeah.' That was pretty much it. I was under 100 pitches so I had plenty left.”
“What he did today was the first pitch on, he was just nails,” La Russa said. “I told [catcher] Yasmani [Grandal] after the game, 'Outstanding.' I said, 'You had a lot to work with,' and he said, 'I really did.' He had control of all his pitches, very deceptive, the ball had life. Kansas City came in as one of the top hitting clubs in our league.”
La Russa, meanwhile, returned to Chicago in style.
“That's the kind of opener for, whatever 30-some years, that's what you want,” La Russa said. “But to do it coming back here was like Fantasy Island because it usually doesn't work that way.”