The temperature at the beginning of the White Sox-Cubs game Wednesday night was 54. If the weather had simply checked in with us beforehand, it would have learned that it was June 19 in Chicago — almost summer! — and dutifully turned up the thermostat. That would have saved it from a lot of public shaming, which included people stopping in the street and shaking fists at clouds obscuring the tops of high rises.
But, no. So we had to turn to two pitchers for warmth. The Cubs’ Jon Lester, the seen-it-all veteran, was going against the Sox’ Lucas Giolito, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs made the Giolito with the 10-1 record and the American League-best 2.22 ERA look like the Giolito who gave up the most runs and walks in the league last season. After allowing a double off the right-field ivy to leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber, he fanned Kris Bryant, walked Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez and then gave up a grand slam to Willson Contreras.
In positive news, he did strike out the side.
Then he gave up another laser home run to Contreras in the third.
Lester had given up a home run to Luery Garcia on the first pitch of the night. Then he gave up a solo shot to Sox catcher James McCann in the fourth.
It was like that.
By the time the game was over, the Cubs had prevailed 7-3, and Giolito probably was wondering why the rain that had been in the forecast didn’t show up to put him and Sox fans out of their misery. The game counted, and it mattered.
Lester kept the damage to a minimum. Giolito didn’t.
This was the biggest start of the Sox pitcher’s season, even if it was a regular-season game in the middle of a 162-game schedule. It was against the Cubs, the Sox’ crosstown rival whose success they hope to emulate. And it was at Wrigley, enemy territory. The game almost had a playoff buzz to it, especially after Sox rookie Eloy Jimenez had helped his team beat the Cubs the night before with a two-run homer in the ninth.
A first-inning grand slam would be deflating all by its lonesome, but given all the emotion involved Wednesday, it poked a large hole in the Sox’ bounce house.
“I got hit hard,’’ said Giolito, who lasted 4⅓ innings. “That’s the hardest I’ve been hit in a long time. Just hanging some sliders. The changeup was probably the worst it’s been this year.’’
Before the game, McCann foreshadowed how Giolito’s night would go. He didn’t mean to, but he did. A reporter had asked him how the Sox’ ace had transformed himself this season.
“The physical stuff has always been there,’’ McCann said. “I think there’s a few tuneups that he did — shortening his arm and all that stuff. But it’s the mental approach. I can point to multiple occasions this season where he’s had a rough first inning. In Toronto, he gave up three hits to the first four hitters, and the next thing you know, he doesn’t give up another hit until the eighth inning. He gave up a three-run homer to the Royals in the first inning, and now it’s the eighth inning and those are the only three runs he’s given up.
“Last year, some of those outings turn into bad outings where he’s chased in the fourth inning. This year, his mental approach and his determination and his grit is a little different.’’
On Wednesday, we had the city’s two best starting pitchers, both with determination and grit, facing each other. One of them, Giolito, had something to prove.
Lester would have laughed in the face of anyone who dared suggest that this was his biggest game of the year. He has three World Series championship rings. He gives his team 30 starts every season. But he had struggled coming into this game, dropping four of his last six decisions and watching his ERA balloon to 4.08. So he surely wanted a bounce back, though it didn’t matter against whom.
Giolito probably could have used some affirmation out of his start against the Cubs. He has been great this season. He has helped carry the Sox as they’ve battled to get above .500.
“It’s something like a kind of out-of-body experience,’’ McCann said of his team’s ace. “You step back and really understand how special this stretch that he’s going through right now.’’
But Giolito hadn’t been in a situation like Wednesday this year. By the time he was done, he had given up three home runs and struck out nine. It was like that. Cold.