Willson Contreras wasn’t too thrilled with Anthony Swarzak’s final two pitches being called strikes, but for the White Sox reliever, that pair of perfectly-placed fastballs were the culmination of years of work.
Swarzak earned his first career save in the White Sox 3-1 win over the Cubs in Monday’s Crosstown opener at Wrigley Field, retiring Javier Baez in the eighth and then pitching past Kris Bryant’s two-out infield single and Anthony Rizzo’s ensuing walk in the ninth. After home plate umpire Angel Hernandez rung up Contreras to end the game, Swarzak unleashed a yell that encapsulated the energy of the day — even though the White Sox, in snapping their nine-game losing streak, remain at the bottom of the American League.
“I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time,” Swarzak said. “It’s nice that I went in there and got it done. You think about that moment for years and then it finally happens. You just are trying to take a step back and reflect on what just happened, and I’ll be able to come in tomorrow and be ready to go.”
While both teams paid lip service to the “it’s just another game” approach to Crosstown matchups, the crowd of 40,849 was electric. Third baseman Matt Davidson — who slammed a 476-foot home run in the eighth inning — remarked that Monday afternoon was the closest atmosphere he’s felt to a playoff game. Swarzak felt that same energy, too.
“When you work really hard on executing and in the biggest situation, runners on against the Cubs, Wrigley Field, to be able to execute, that means that you’re working on the right stuff and you’re headed in the right direction,” Swarzak said.
With David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle shipped to the New York Yankees last week, and Nate Jones and Zach Putnam out for the rest of the season, Swarzak should get more high-leverage opportunities going forward — that is, unless he’s traded within the next week. The 31-year-old Swarzak, who lowered his ERA Monday to 2.23 with a tidy 2.34 FIP, is one of the White Sox few remaining trade chips, but his success this year makes him an attractive target for a team vying for a playoff spot.
If Swarzak is traded to a contender, he’ll pitch in plenty more high-leverage spots in front of charged-up crowds. Playoff baseball may be in his future, and Monday afternoon could prove to be a preview of what he’ll be up against over the final few months of the season if he indeed is traded.
“Pitching the ninth inning is different,” Swarzak said. “Guys are more patient, they know what you’re going to throw, they’re locked in a little more. And that was just one. There’s a long list of career saves and I’m on the bottom of it. Hopefully I can get a few more opportunities and we can win some more games.”