In 2018, Lucas Giolito and Rick Renteria were on an elevator.
“I was having a rough stretch, like pretty much that entire year,” Giolito recalled in February, “and I remember we got into a hotel late one night and we ended up being in the same elevator. And he just patted me on the back and whispered, ‘I know you’re going to be an All-Star one day. I know you’re going to be an All-Star.’
“And I was like, ‘OK, I sure hope so.’”
A season after that conversation, Giolito was indeed an All Star.
And a season after that, he threw the 19th no-hitter in White Sox history.
“I always envisioned that I'd throw a no-hitter in the big leagues,” Giolito said Tuesday night. “If you would've asked me about it in '18, I probably would've been like, 'What the hell are you talking about?'”
Indeed, it would have been eye-poppingly nutty to suggest that the pitcher who posted the worst statistics in baseball during the 2018 season was capable of what Giolito did Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. The guy who was lit up early and often during his first full season in the big leagues was a dominant, unhittable force. He worked quickly, he blew 13 strikeouts past the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he looked like one of the most fearsome arms in baseball.
Because he is. And Renteria knew it all along.
“I don’t have any words. I want to cry. I’m really happy for him,” the manager said. “You’ve got to give those guys all the credit in the world. We always tell them we can believe in them, but they have to believe themselves. We can’t believe for them. He’s always had that belief. He did a great job tonight.”
Renteria was in a small group back in 2018, though. Giolito allowed more earned runs than any pitcher in the game that season. He led the American League in walks. He was touched up regularly and had fans wondering whether the guy who was once the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball could stay a part of the White Sox long-term pitching future.
All along, fielding questions of whether Giolito would be better off being sent back to Triple-A, Renteria maintained that the whole thing was one big learning moment. That Giolito would take the negative things that were happening to him on a regular basis and turn it into gold.
And that’s exactly what happened.
“I was pretty much bottom of the league when it came to every stat, almost,” Giolito said. “It was that I kind of had to get my ass kicked, kind of had to learn from failure and go and make the changes I needed to make to be able to realize my true potential.”
He went to work in the following offseason and emerged the other side an ace. He had a fantastic 2019 campaign and made the All-Star team. His presence at the top of the White Sox rotation was one of many reasons the team looked capable of vaulting into contention in 2020.
James McCann, who went through his own personal transformation to go from non-tendered in 2018 to the AL All-Star team in 2019, has been there for Giolito’s rise. He faced him as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 before catching him in 2019. He was behind the plate Tuesday for the biggest moment of Giolito’s career to date.
Could that guy he stepped in against in 2018 have done this?
“How far Lucas has come,” McCann marveled. “In 2018, no (I couldn’t have seen him doing this). In 2019, yes, simply put.
“To see the strides that he has made, and he's just continued to grow and (have) that mindset of trying to get better and not being content, I couldn't be happier for him.”
Getting better. It’s becoming a sort of theme for these White Sox. This team lost 89 games a season ago. In the last week and a half, they’ve hit four consecutive home runs, rattled off a seven-game winning streak, seen José Abreu hit six homers in three games, made a statement taking two out of three from the Crosstown-rival Cubs and had Giolito throw a no-hitter.
This team is better. This pitcher is better. And both are only planning on getting better.
Why can’t these White Sox make some serious noise come October? Why can’t this pitcher be one of baseball’s best?
Well, he already is. But that’s not going to stop him from aiming higher.
“The thing is, I was able to do what we did tonight — and it still hasn't sunk in yet, it's crazy — but I know I can continue to get better,” Giolito said. “There are a lot of things I can improve. That's all I care about is becoming the best pitcher I can possibly be. I'm just going to enjoy this night and then get back on the mound in five days.”
That’s how you go from the worst numbers in baseball to a no-hitter. That’s how you become one of baseball’s finest arms.
And that’s how the White Sox can win and win big.