ANAHEIM, Calif. — Lucas Giolito had the ultimate Southern California day Friday, returning to pitch in the area where he grew up while getting some pregame inspiration from a local legend.
Former UCLA and NBA great Bill Walton addressed the White Sox in the clubhouse before the game, speaking his own brand of wit and wisdom. Sometimes rambling, often enlightening and always entertaining, Walton told Sox players to know they belong and to never let anybody tell them otherwise.
“It’s always an honor because years ago, I was one of those guys,” Walton said afterward. “I’m guilty of everything — mostly of not listening to people who knew what they were talking about. So I tried to impress upon them some of the things that have helped me to get to where I am.”
For Giolito, Walton’s “you belong” speech resonated. He struck out 11 over six innings against the Angels, giving him 24 strikeouts over his last two starts, and was credited with the win after catcher James McCann’s grand slam to deep left field in the top of the eighth secured a 7-2 Sox victory.
Giolito (13-6) allowed two runs and six hits with three walks and was removed one inning after giving up a solo homer to Mike Trout, with the Sox leading 3-2. That kind of start did not come consistently last year, when his struggles were so pronounced that nobody would have blinked if he’d been sent back to Class AAA for more seasoning.
The evidence of how far Giolito has come was there in his last outing Sunday against the Athletics. The Sox lost 2-0, but Giolito struck out a career-best 13 — and the A’s apparently felt the best approach against him was to try to beat one specific part of his game instead of the whole.
“The A’s approach might have been a little different than most teams,” Giolito said. “It looked like they might have been cheating to offspeed, and I was able to take advantage of that early.”
In his own modest way, Giolito was saying he got a bit of help. (He also credited McCann.) But the real takeaway is that he has come so far that scouting reports are concluding you have to pick your poison when facing him.
“He is becoming that guy because he has been able to execute with several pitches, not only with the pitch type but the pitch location,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He works all the quadrants, studies hitters very well. They put together really good plans, and they all know it is incumbent on them to execute those plans to give themselves a chance.
“But his stuff is really good. We see him start to bounce back a little more. His velocity is starting to creep back up again.”
Friday was an emotional night for Giolito in front of as many as 15 friends and family members. That included a family friend who was attending a major-league game for the first time, something Giolito was proud to point out.
But the biggest emotions came from pitching on a mound that his good friend Tyler Skaggs used to call his own. Skaggs passed away July 1 in his hotel room during an Angels road trip to Texas.
Giolito said the closure has been slow to come. He attended Skaggs’ funeral services in Santa Monica and has been pitching with Skaggs’ number on his cap, a tribute that seemed especially poignant Friday night.
“It’s been tough,” Giolito said. “Coming back here is a bit weird.”
Taking the mound figured to be the best way to normalize things again. Listening to a Walton pregame speech might not have been normal, in more ways than one, but it could have served as a way to take the edge off.
Walton can put things into perspective if you give him the chance. He offered some wisdom from his former college coach, the late John Wooden.
“As Coach Wooden always told me, you’ll never learn what you don’t want to know, and it’s the things you learn after you know it all that count,” Walton said.