Giolito in 'bully stage' with near-perfect win

White Sox ace flirts with history in postseason debut

September 30th, 2020

As retired the first 18 A’s batters faced during a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series on Tuesday afternoon at Oakland, the White Sox couldn’t help but think about their ace’s no-hitter against Pittsburgh on Aug. 25.

But for Giolito, his first career playoff appearance was very different from that start at Guaranteed Rate Field one month ago.

“Throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter is a great personal accomplishment, but we are in the playoffs,” Giolito said. “The goal is to win the game.

“For me, it was all about I’m going to give the team the best possible chance to come out on top after nine innings, whether I throw six, seven, eight innings. It doesn’t matter. I was just focused on executing each pitch. If a perfect game happens, it happens. That was not on my mind, whereas like the one during the season, it was very much on my mind.”

Giolito did not achieve perfection, as grounded a 2-2 changeup back through the middle to open the seventh. Otherwise, the right-hander was brilliant in what turned out to be a great overall debut for this young White Sox team moving from rebuild to contention.

Thoughts of their 2-8 finish to the 2020 regular season, costing the White Sox the AL Central title, were long gone by the time closed the opener.

“We were sure we were going to make the playoffs. We knew we had the talent to do it,” Giolito said. “When it comes time to actually play in the playoffs, it’s the same game.”

“This is the stage you want to be on. You want to play in big games like this,” said White Sox shortstop , who had three hits and a run scored. “You want to perform in big games like this. At the end of the day, we’re playing the same game, and we were able to come out and get the win.”

Getting the start on Opening Day was another 2020 honor for Giolito, coming on the heels of extensive offseason work to transform a rough 2018 campaign into an AL Cy Young Award-worthy effort in 2019. But Giolito might have been a little over-amped against Minnesota on July 24, giving up a first-pitch homer to Max Kepler and not getting through the fourth.

Things were different for Giolito on Tuesday, more calm, more controlled. It was a change Dallas Keuchel noticed when the two were talking over dinner on Monday night.

"Last night, just some jitters the night before,” Giolito said. “But I woke up this morning feeling good, and then once I got out there and came into the clubhouse, did all my preparation, just felt like another start. And then went out there between the lines and took care of business.”

“He had it working today. He threw the ball extremely well all game,” La Stella said. “We took some good swings and didn’t find holes. In a game like this, that’ll probably be the difference. He threw the fastball effectively and located well, then threw the changeup off that to speed guys up. More to the righties, he was also mixing in the slider and threw that effectively as well.”

Over 100 pitches and seven-plus innings, Giolito threw 54 four-seamers, 26 sliders and 20 changeups, per Statcast, in a rare start where his sliders called by catcher James McCann exceeded the changeups. Giolito fanned eight and walked one, becoming the fifth pitcher in MLB history to be perfect through six innings in a playoff game, joining (per STATS):

Don Larsen (1956 World Series Game 5): Perfect game
Herb Pennock (1927 World Series Game 3): 7 1/3 IP
Jim Lonborg (1967 World Series Game 2): 6 1/3 IP
Mike Mussina (2004 ALCS Game 4): 6 1/3 IP

“It was pretty cool. It was neat to see,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He threw the ball very, very well and took us deep into the ballgame. He looked very much in control.”

“Looking at some of his previous outings, you could get his pitch count up a little bit and make him work,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “That was the plan. But it didn’t work out that way for us. He was on it right away, threw strikes and kept us off balance.”

Giolito needed just 28 pitches to get through two perfect innings and threw 60 pitches to set down the first 15, with just five whiffs during that time, per Statcast. The right-hander simply overmatched the A’s, even after La Stella’s leadoff single in the seventh. Robbie Grossman and Marcus Semien both worked the counts full after that, and Giolito struck out both of them.

Anderson referred to this sort of dominance as Giolito’s “bully stage,” where he hits all his spots. Giolito laughed at the term, but seemed to want to incorporate it into future starts as the White Sox moved one win away from advancing to the Division Series.

“Lucas is a stud,” said , who became the first White Sox player to homer in his first postseason at-bat. “He's been doing it all year. He's one of the best in the game. I think he's a true ace, one of the handful of guys out there I would consider a true ace, and he showed it today.”