White Sox

White Sox

Lucas Giolito did what aces do Wednesday night.

The White Sox were officially on the schneid, losers of three straight and four of their first five games of this shortened, 60-game season. No matter how early it was, the air was getting sucked out of the balloon after months of playoff talk on the South Side and declarations of mandatory fast starts in this most unusual of campaigns.

While certain fans went ballistic over the presence of certain players in Rick Renteria’s daily lineups, the truth was that the White Sox were being buried by poor starting pitching. Outside of Dallas Keuchel’s terrific showing in his White Sox debut Saturday, the first turn through the starting rotation was woeful, and those arms coughed up 13 first-inning runs in those four losses.

They needed a stopper. Good thing they’ve got one.

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“It was a must-win game for us as a team,” Giolito said after leading the White Sox to a 4-0 victory in Cleveland. “The way I saw it, our first round of starting pitching did not go well, so it was time for us to make the adjustments we needed and go out there and have a good one. I was happy to do that.”

The White Sox, nor Giolito, nor even quick-to-react fans were going to let Giolito’s poor performance on Opening Day — he was tagged for seven runs by the potent Minnesota Twins lineup — alter the idea that he belongs at the top of this rotation. But for all the potential these young starting pitchers have, they flopped on their first spin in 2020. After Keuchel pitched well Saturday, Reynaldo López gave up a grand slam and departed with an injury in the first inning Sunday, Dylan Cease was knocked around in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, and Carlos Rodón didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in Game 2.

Team all of that with a much hyped lineup that stranded 16 guys over two narrow losses Tuesday in Cleveland, and things were looking somewhat dire, even this early in the campaign. After all, these players were the ones who kept talking about how critical it was to get off to a fast start in a sprint to the postseason. A 1-4 start was anything but fast.

But Giolito did what he’s supposed to do, delivering a fantastic performance that was reminiscent of the many he turned in last season, when he earned a trip to the All-Star Game in the same stadium he pitched Wednesday. He gave up the same number of runs in six innings Wednesday that he did in his one inning during the Midsummer Classic last July: zero.

During his All-Star season in 2019, it was easy to gawk at how far he’d come since the year prior, when he finished that campaign as the pitcher with the worst numbers in baseball. The Opening Day drubbing at the hands of the Twins might have given some folks flashbacks to 2018.

But Giolito’s a much different pitcher these days. He has talked about how badly he wants to be the ace of this South Side staff. Wednesday, he proved that’s exactly what he is when the White Sox needed him most.

“It’s less about feeling the pressure of ‘I need to do this, I have to do this,’ and more like ‘I get to do this,’” he said. “For me, after the year I had last year, I knew I put myself in a position where when I take the ball, it’s going to be in these types of games, these must-win games.

“Having higher pressure, higher levels of whatever it is, if you give into that, that’s when you are going to start trying to do too much. For me it’s all about embracing the moment and taking the ball with a lot of confidence.”

When you’ve got playoff aspirations, that’s what you want to hear from your No. 1 starter.

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The White Sox, as has been quite evident during the season’s first six games, have a hard road to get to the postseason, even in a year when the American League playoff field is a whopping eight teams. In the AL Central, which they want to win, the Twins showed they can bash White Sox pitching and the Indians showed they can quiet White Sox hitting. It’s not going to be easy.

But they’ve got a guy they can count on to do this kind of thing in big moments.

Playing on White Sox teams that have lost a lot of games during his big league career, Giolito hasn’t been faced with these types of moments too often. Wednesday night, though, was playoff-style baseball, high-stakes baseball. And Giolito shone.

The White Sox are now 10 percent of the way through their 2020 schedule. And there might be no better example of how much weight each game holds than the way White Sox fans were feeling 24 hours apart between Tuesday and Wednesday. The record improved from 1-4 to just 2-4. But it might as well have been a seismic shift.

They have their ace to thank.

"We needed a victory today, not only to tack on another victory (to the record), but morally speaking, you want these guys to be up,” manager Rick Renteria said. “That mentality has always been (there for Giolito). That's the difference that I've always seen in Lucas, regardless of how it kind of started with us here. He's always had that mindset. I think that's what actually propelled him to perform the way he's been able to perform.”