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Bully for Lucas Giolito, who flirted with perfection in White Sox’ Game 1 victory

His dominance gave the Sox a 4-1 victory over the A’s.

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game One
Lucas Giolito throws against the A’s in the White Sox’ 4-1 playoff victory Tuesday afternoon in Oakland.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You White Sox fans had every reason to be worried about your team Tuesday morning. On your mind were seven losses in eight games to end the regular season. You had Tim Anderson in a slump. You had lots of young players making their playoff debuts. If that wasn’t enough, you had the Sox’ wretched recent history in Oakland staring you in your horrified faces.

But you had one very good reason to be as loose as an overserved goose. You had Lucas Giolito glaring over his glove at A’s hitters Tuesday afternoon. That scary sight and Giolito’s mastery were more than enough in the Sox’ 4-1 victory in Game 1 of their American League wild-card series in the Bay Area.

My goodness, was he good. Giolito had a perfect game through six innings and ended up limiting the A’s to two hits in seven-plus innings. He painted a plus sign over the strike zone. Pitches up. Pitches down. Pitches over here. Pitches over there. He threw more sliders (26) than he had in any game this season.

The A’s surely were ready for the fastball/changeup approach he had taken to most games. Instead, they got nothing and were told to like it. Former Cub Tommy La Stella singled up the middle to start the seventh, ending the pursuit of perfection. Spoilsport.

Giolito started off well and got better. Seven of his eight strikeouts came after the third inning.

‘‘You can kind of read him when he’s on the mound,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘He goes into, like, a bully stage, where he just starts hitting his spots and being so dominant. I watched this all season long and last season, as well. I know when he’s in his groove.’’

A bully stage? I thought we were against that sort of thing.

‘‘It’s like when things start to sync up, the brain kind of shuts off and it’s just kind of tunnel vision to the glove,’’ Giolito said. ‘‘When I hit that state, I just want to ride it out as long as possible. That’s pretty much it right there. I like that he calls it that — the bully stage.’’

Some people downgraded Giolito’s no-hitter last month against the weak-hitting Pirates, saying they were in danger of being relegated to Triple-A. OK, fine. But there was no downplaying what he did Tuesday. Because it was against the second-seeded A’s in the Sox’ first playoff game since 2008, it might have been a more dominant performance than the no-no.

‘‘Throwing a perfect-game no-hitter is a great personal accomplishment,’’ Giolito said. ‘‘But we’re in the playoffs. The goal is to win the game. For me, it was all about, ‘I’m going to give the team the best possible chance to come out on top after nine innings are done.’ . . . If a perfect game happens, it happens. But that was not on my mind, whereas the one during the season was very much on my mind.’’

A perfect game was on some of his teammates’ minds. How could it not be?

‘‘Getting to the sixth or seventh inning, it’s like: ‘I’ve been here before. I know what this is like. What do we have to do to make this happen?’ ’’ right fielder Adam Engel said. ‘‘I was kind of going back and forth: Am I rooting for a perfect game right now, or are we just trying to win the game?’’

The victory, of course, but everybody wants to see history. And there was history Tuesday, despite the perfect game and no-hitter going by the wayside. Giolito became the second Sox pitcher to pitch seven-plus innings and allow one run or fewer and two hits or fewer in a postseason game. The other was Ed Walsh against the Cubs in Game 3 of the 1906 World Series. I think the Sox’ public-relations department had to do an archeological dig to find that stat.

The plan going into the game was for Giolito to surprise the A’s aggressive hitters with the slider. You are free to consider them surprised.

‘‘Against that lineup, we knew that the slider would be effective if it was working,’’ Giolito said. ‘‘So [catcher James] McCann made it a point to call it a good amount early, even in counts where in another start maybe we’d throw changeups in those situations. That just got the feel for it going early.’’

It was Giolito’s postseason debut. You never would have known it. He seemed as calm as a windless day.

He wasn’t the night before.

‘‘I’m not going to lie: I was a little bit nervous,’’ he said.

Giolito said he woke up and felt relaxed. Too bad for the A’s. But good for Sox fans, who had seen things trending downward toward the end of the regular season. To make matters worse, the Sox had lost their previous six games in Oakland.

Not to worry. Some pitchers stop the bleeding. Giolito stops the fretting.