White Sox

Zach Duke's 'El Duque'-esque great escape earns White Sox much-needed win

Zach Duke's 'El Duque'-esque great escape earns White Sox much-needed win

BOSTON — Instead of Jason Varitek, Tony Graffanino and Johnny Damon, it was Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vasquez and Ryan LaMarre. 

Zach Duke’s miraculous escape of a bases loaded, nobody-out jam — which was reminiscent of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez’s landmark relief appearance here in Game 3 of the 2005 American League Division Series — set up Jose Abreu’s game-winning two-run double to earn the White Sox a 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox Monday night at Fenway Park. 

When Duke entered the game — which came after Zach Putnam walked the bases loaded to begin the ninth — the Red Sox had a 93.8 percent chance of winning, according to FanGraphs’ win expectancy. 

“It was a little bit stressful,” Duke said. “But those are the moments we live for as players. To be able to be handed the ball in that situation and get the job done, that’s what we live for.”

Dustin Pedroia was the first challenger against Duke, with the former MVP being called upon to pinch hit for left-handed third baseman Travis Shaw. After getting strike one with a fastball out over the plate, Duke pounded Pedroia inside with his low-80s slider and mid-70s curveball. He missed with one, but Pedroia pulled three breaking balls foul — which was exactly the plan. 

With Pedroia having to protect a two-strike count against that barrage of inside breaking balls, Duke went back to his fastball. He missed low and away with his first one, then blew Pedroia away with No. 2 for the first out. 

“He made some really good pitches with his breaking ball in to him where if he was going to make solid contact it was going to go foul, like he did a couple of times,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Zach has those two different types of breaking balls where it can be a little harder and slower, and when you’re seeing as many as Pedroia did, the two fastballs you could tell he was late on protecting against the breaking ball as well. Good sequence on his part.”

Next up was light-hitting catcher Christian Vasquez, with the Red Sox win expectancy still at a healthy 83.6 percent. Duke didn’t throw a single pitch in the strike zone during this at-bat, with Vasquez letting two balls go but chasing two out of the zone for foul balls. The 2-2 offering was a 77 mile per hour curveball low and away, which Vasquez softly chopped up the middle. 

Tyler Saladino — who was brought on as a fifth infielder after Putnam loaded the bases — was standing right there to field it, but the usually sure-handed infielder fired low toward home plate. Avila made an outstanding play, keeping his right foot on the base while successfully cradling the ball in his glove. If he had bobbled it or not fielded it cleanly, it would’ve been game over. 

“That was an unreal play,” Duke said. “I don’t know how he caught that ball. I had a perfect view of it. As soon as it left Sally’s hand, I was going, ‘Nooooo,’ but then he came up with it. 

“And I said from that point on I’m going to get this next guy.”

The next guy was pinch hitter Ryan LaMarre, and Duke followed through on his personal prediction (the Red Sox win expectancy dropped to 66 percent after Vasquez’s groundout). This was a dominant at-bat from Duke — LaMarre fouled off a first-pitch fastball, then swung at two of three breaking balls low and inside for an inning-ending strikeout. 

Duke let out two primal screams as he strutted off the mound. 

“You bring him in that situation and you’re hoping for the best,” manager Robin Ventura said. 

What Duke did was exactly that best-case scenario, however unlikely it was. The White Sox were 90 feet away from losing their third game in four days in walk-off fashion only a few hours after general manager Rick Hahn fielded questions about Ventura’s job status. For a team that’s been stuck in a bad way for about a month and a half, Duke’s spectacular escape was a much-needed reversal of fortune. 

Whether the ninth inning — and Jose Abreu’s game-winning, two-run double in the 10th — result in the White Sox turning things around for good after losing 26 of their previous 36 games heading into Boston remains to be seen. But thanks to Zach “Duque” (he had a laugh at all those plays on his and Hernandez’s name that were all over social media), the White Sox were able to celebrate instead of wallow on Monday night.

“For us, it’s hard to win one game, sometimes,” Ventura said. “It took a game a game as odd as this one to do it and it shows something about the toughness of the guys we have in here.”

On this day in 2005: White Sox pitchers put the CG in Chicago

On this day in 2005: White Sox pitchers put the CG in Chicago

Mark Buehrle. Jon Garland. Freddy García. José Contreras.

The 2005 White Sox had four consecutive complete games to finish off the 2005 ALCS — Contreras took his turn in Game 5 against the Angels 13 years ago Tuesday. How special was that run of starting pitching to finish that series? Consider the following six statements:

— No team has had more than two complete games in a single postseason, let alone a postseason series, since.

— There has been a grand total of four complete games in 188 postseason games (through Monday) since the beginning of 2016.

— Those 2005 White Sox remain the only team with four complete games in a single LCS (which went to a best-of-seven format in 1985).

— They are the only team since the 1968 Tigers (in the World Series) with at least four complete games in any postseason series.

— They are the only team since the 1956 Yankees (in the World Series) with at least four consecutive complete games in a series. (The Yankees had five in a row: Games 3 through 7.)

— They are the only team since the 1928 Yankees (in the World Series) with at least four consecutive complete-game wins in a series (Games 1 through 4).

Take a moment to look back and appreciate what Don Cooper’s troops were able to accomplish in that series. The way the game is played nowadays, we will never see it again.

If 2018 was all about 'learning experiences' for young White Sox, what did Lucas Giolito learn?


If 2018 was all about 'learning experiences' for young White Sox, what did Lucas Giolito learn?

We heard a lot about "learning experiences" during the White Sox 100-loss 2018 season.

It was Rick Renteria's way of describing the to-be-anticipated growing pains for highly touted players spending their first full seasons in the major leagues. Fan expectations were high for the likes of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada, and by very few measures did those players — some of the first of the organization's bevy of prospects to reach the South Side — live up to those expectations.

But that doesn't mean that those players' seasons were devoid of value. Renteria, the White Sox and the players all expect these "learning experiences" to have long-term benefits. In other words, it's the struggles now that will help these players succeed and create the planned perennial contender on the South Side.

So if those "learning experiences" were so valuable, what did these guys learn?

Giolito finished his first full season in the bigs with a 6.13 ERA, leading baseball in earned runs allowed and leading the American League in walks. What did he take from what looked from the outside like a disappointing season?

"I think I learned the most from my worst starts this year, the ones where I didn’t make it out of the first, didn’t make it out of the second," Giolito said before the end of the White Sox season last month. "Just going out there not having the right mindset from the get go and allowing the game to speed up on me really quickly, there’s maybe two, three, four games where that happened. And obviously I came out of those games upset and frustrated, but now looking back on them from this perspective at the end of the season, I really learned the most from those.

"Entering every single start, I get roughly 32 of them a year, make sure that I’m prepared, I’m ready to pitch, my routine is set and I’m following it to a ‘T.’ And over the second half of the season, I started to put up better numbers, put up more competitive starts just through that process of earlier in the year grinding and grinding and not doing well. I learned a lot about myself in that process as a pitcher and as a competitor."

Certain numbers don't exactly show a drastic improvement from one half of the season to the other: Giolito's ERA prior to the All-Star break (6.18) and after it (6.04) were pretty much the same. He had a much improved August (3.86 ERA in six starts) and a rough September (9.27 ERA in five starts).

But again, the 2018 season wasn't about what the numbers look like now. It was about what those numbers will look like a year or two or three from now, when the White Sox make their transition from rebuilding to contending.

"You go out there and you don’t get the job done, you’re knocked out of the game early, looking back on it, it’s like, ‘Now I know what doesn’t work.’ And I’m able to make those adjustments and the changes to the routine and the changes to mindset and things to be able to go out there," Giolito said. "I’m not going to have my best stuff every day. Some days I might not feel right and might be battling myself a little bit. But it’s being able to make that quick adjustment, not letting the game speed up. That’s the biggest thing.

"At this level, you go out there and you’re not feeling right in the first inning, it might be three runs, four runs on the board before you even know it. And I think getting that experience, getting to pitch every fifth day for an entire season and having a ton of downs and starting to figure it out more toward the end, it’s gaining that experience and learning what works and learning what doesn’t."

Throughout the season, Renteria complimented Giolito for the pitcher's ability to move on from rough beginnings to starts and turn in a five- or six-outing despite the early trouble. Giolito did a good deal of that throughout the season, with longevity during starts rarely being an issue, even if the run totals were high. Only six of his 32 starts in 2018 were shorter than five innings, and the percentage of his starts that lasted six and seven innings increased from the first half of the season to the second.

And then there are the walks, and there was a significant decrease in the amount of guys Giolito was putting on base between the first and second halves of the season. He walked 60 batters in 103.1 innings in the first half for a BB/9 of 5.2, compared to 30 batters in 70 innings in the second half for a BB/9 of 3.9.

So there were positives for Giolito to take from his 2018 campaign.

"The second half of the season, bouncing back from what I was doing. Cutting down on the walks, starting to pitch better, pitch more consistently. Even games when I wasn’t sharp, I was getting hit around, not doing so well, I did a better job of at least giving the team a chance, getting a little bit deeper into the game," he said. "So I’d say those are some of the highlights, learning from the mistakes and learning from the failures and within the season being able to make the right adjustments to be more successful."

On Opening Day, Giolito talked about how different a pitcher he was more than a year after joining the White Sox organization. One full season in the big leagues, and Giolito is again a different pitcher. It's that continuing evolution that the White Sox hope will make him a mainstay in their rotation of the future.

"More experience, more mature. I’m no longer really fazed by the big situation. If I get into trouble in the first inning, I’m not worrying about it or thinking about it or how I screwed up the last at-bat, last pitch, I walked a guy, gave up a double, whatever it might be. Now, what’s in the past is in the past, even when I’m out there," he said. "If I mess up a couple pitches, I know the adjustment to make and I’m going to do my best to make that adjustment without it taking a couple innings or even never making the adjustment the entire start, which is what was happening through April, May, June.

"Just getting that experience and learning to make those adjustments on the fly. I’d say that’s what I’m really taking away from this year."