Lucas Giolito’s name began to zoom around social media late Tuesday afternoon. A perfect game through five innings became a perfect game through six innings. Everyone started to perk up and pay more attention to what the 26-year-old was doing in the Oakland Coliseum.
A Tommy La Stella single to start the seventh inning ended Giolito’s chase for history in Game 1 of the wild-card series between the White Sox and A’s. He did become just the fifth pitcher in postseason history to carry a perfect game through six innings. Don Larsen’s Game 5 start in the 1956 World Series remains the only perfect game in Major League Baseball postseason history thrown by a single pitcher.
The view of Giolito in Washington is attached to lore because the 2019 World Series champions will always be a first. The title never goes away. It just exists on lists for the rest of time, whether it is the only one or among multiple ones to come. How any title team reached their winning point is perpetually dissected to see if it can be replicated, but also to assess the cost.
Giolito represents part of the price paid to win a World Series. The Nationals traded him, and two other starting pitchers, for Adam Eaton. Giolito was not pitching well at the time. Eaton’s defense and solid offense made him a low-cost, analytics-friendly player. So, Mike Rizzo made the swap.
“I think the determining factor to do a deal that included Lucas was the player that we got in return,” Rizzo said at the time. “It was something that fit for us well. We liked, again, the flexibility of the contract and the control of the player and the player itself.
“The analytical side of it was very, very positive. Our scouts loved him, loved the way he played. I think he brings a good package to the ball club.”
Declaring a victor in the trade remains difficult, and is generally a fool’s errand. What is clear at this point is the Nationals are short on major-league ready, impact pitching prospects. It appears two left in the Eaton trade: Giolito, and Dane Dunning, who made his major-league debut this season with the White Sox. The third pitcher, Reynaldo López, has not pitched well in Chicago.
So, watching Giolito throw seven innings, allow two hits and a run on Tuesday provides an opportunity for a look back and a look forward. He threw a no-hitter this season, was an All-Star last season and is the ace of one of the league’s most compelling teams.
In Washington, he is a perpetual reminder of what it took to win a World Series. The Nationals didn’t just need a bad bounce in right field, a grand slam into the Los Angeles night or to win four road games in the World Series. They needed to pay side costs in prospects to get there. And, it wasn’t just Giolito who made it easy to recall Tuesday what was given up to get the title. Jesús Luzardo, just 22 years old, started opposite Giolito for Oakland in Game 1 of their wild-card series. The Nationals sent Luzardo, Blake Treinen and Sheldon Neuse to Oakland in the middle of 2017 for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.
Both Giolito and Luzardo will have more long-term value to their current teams than Eaton or Doolittle did in Washington. However, those young pitchers may never be able to walk around with an equivalent hunk of jewelry on their hand, no matter how well they pitch in the postseason.