Nights like Tuesday are why the Chicago White Sox signed Dallas Keuchel.
"He was Picasso," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said, "just painted beautifully."
Keuchel is a Cy Young winner and a World Series champ, an accomplished arm that showed last year that he's still among the game's most effective pitchers. He turned in a 1.99 ERA and finished fifth in the American League Cy Young vote.
A slower start this season and eye-popping numbers from rotation mates like Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón — not to mention the sour taste in his mouth from a losing effort in Game 2 of last fall's playoff series — perhaps buried Keuchel further down the starting-staff power rankings in the minds of some fans.
Then he went and quieted the best team in baseball Tuesday night.
Lynn might have said just 24 hours that "no one gives a s---" about drawing grand conclusions from a big series in June when all the important stuff comes deeper into the calendar. But Keuchel sure did impress with seven shutout innings against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, scattering just four hits and a walk across a sterling effort that looked like his best of the season to date.
"It is June. But these games are fun, these competitive games," Keuchel said. "We need these competitive games at any point in time. We’re going to have a tough stretch in August. ... That’s going to be another tough stretch for us. But we had Toronto in here, we had Rays in here, we’re going to Houston, that’s going to be a pretty hostile environment. These games are ones that you can, good or bad, take a lot from and move towards October with.
"But it is just June, so you’ve got to kind of pump the breaks on overhyping yourself and just try to get the job done night in and night out."
The White Sox might not be buying into this week's visit from the AL East leaders as a measuring stick four months out from October. But what a luxury they have every day with the starting pitchers they're sending to the mound. And Keuchel showed Tuesday he's just as dangerous, has the potential to be just as dominant, as any of the arms in the White Sox rotation.
Indeed, this was one of those games that featured a lot of the stuff that makes the White Sox championship contenders, that made them expected contenders months ago. That was before the big injuries, of course, and Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are still on the mend while Nick Madrigal as been ruled out for the rest of 2021. Surely that part isn't how Rick Hahn and the White Sox drew things up.
But on the mound, things went pretty much according to plan. Keuchel dominated, then turned things over to Aaron Bummer, who pitched a perfect eighth, and Liam Hendriks, who backed up his own big free-agent deal with his 18th save of the campaign.
Before Hendriks got his $54 million, Keuchel got his $55.5 million, and he's making more than anyone on the roster this season.
Nights like this were what the White Sox envisioned when they gave him that big payday, a sign, they hope, of things to come, when they could be matched up with these Rays playing for more than mid-June glory.