Column

No fans? No problem in Giolito's socially distanced no-hitter

Column
USA Today

If you throw a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates and there are no fans in the stands to witness it, does it still count?

Yes. Absolutely.

In the most abnormal circumstances – with only cardboard cutouts in the background to celebrate in the stands – Lucas Giolito threw the 19th no hitter in White Sox history Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, blanking the Pirates 4-0.

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Only a walk of Erik Gonzalez in the fourth inning held back perfection as the 26-year-old struck out 13 Pirates.

“After the seventh inning, it was like, 'I got six outs left. We're going to make this happen,’” Giolito said. “I looked at who was coming up and I was like, 'This is very much within the realm of possibilities.'"

For those lucky enough to throw a no-hitter, they remember it forever, but Giolito did it without fans in stands, an odd quirk in an extremely odd year.

“2020 has been a very strange year. Obviously a lot of weird stuff going on with COVID, the world -- the state of the world,” Giolito said. “So, you know, might as well just throw this in the mix too.”

But the right-hander noticed that the artificial crowd noise was pumped up late in the game as the no-hitter became more of a reality. And with everyone locked in on getting the final outs, the lack of fans in the stands hardly mattered in the ninth inning. That’s not to say the presence of fans is inconsequential -- these are just athletes who are trained to zero in on nothing but that next pitch.

 

“Everybody has to understand, when these guys are focused and doing their job, they're really into what they're doing and the stadium is playing crowd noise and everything now for us to kind of have,” White Sox manager Ricky Renteria said.

Even without fans inside Guaranteed Rate Field, Renteria felt the energy, knowing that White Sox fans were locked in on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.

“The energy was with us, completely,” Renteria said. “And I can tell you that I guarantee you that anybody that was watching that game tonight was giving us all the energy that we needed. We felt it.”

Meanwhile, in right field, Adam Engel stood waiting with two outs in the ninth inning, positioned perfectly because of advanced scouting. And just like Giolito on the mound, Engel was focused on doing everything he could to preserve the perfect game. As it turned out, he saw the ball off the bat of Gonzalez perfectly and his outstanding jump allowed him to catch the ball without even a dive.

Right man, right place.

“I'm sure that would have been an even cooler experience if there were fans, like by a lot, just feeding off their energy,” Engel said. “But I think as a defender, we're just super locked in, super dialed in to trying to make sure we're doing everything we can to get to the ball. I was even joking around with guys saying like from the sixth inning on, I was like, 'If I got to play a ball into an error, I'll play a ball into an error. I just gotta get there.”

He was there. And he didn’t to worry about forcing an error, despite the fact the ball off Gonzalez’s bat had an expected batting average of .850.

It’s safe to say Giolito might be buying Engel a socially distanced steak dinner in the near future.

“Oh yeah, I owe Engel something,” Giolito said.

In the meantime, the right-hander hopes he’s not done throwing no-hitters. Perhaps the next one will come with fans in the stands.

“Hopefully next year we can maybe have some more cool games like this when the fans are back,” Giolito said.

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