Carry on, Lucas Giolito — the White Sox need you to do the heavy lifting now
Giolito has pitched some of his best games against the Astros. Does he have another in Game 2 … and maybe in Game 5 after that?
HOUSTON — Lucas Giolito digs everything about pitching at Minute Maid Park.
There’s something about the mound that just feels right to him. Maybe that’s why he has a 1.57 ERA in three road starts against the dangerous Astros, including the shutout early in 2019 that marked his sudden turnaround from potential bust to ascending All-Star.
He likes the whole look and layout of the place, too, especially the roof. What’s so special about it? No. 1, it exists.
“Anytime it’s a ballpark with a roof, I enjoy it,” he said. “Air conditioning.”
Whatever blows your hair back, big fella.
Whatever keeps Giolito cool in the cauldron of this best-of-five American League Division Series, with the Astros out to a 1-0 lead and the White Sox already in serious danger of getting cooked.
Giolito wasn’t manager Tony La Russa’s choice for Game 1, but that’s over with. Thoughts of Lance Lynn getting rag-dolled by the AL’s top-ranked offense are best forgotten as soon as possible.
Lynn hasn’t been nearly as effective against the Astros as Giolito, who also went the distance against them in a July three-hitter at Guaranteed Rate Field. Maybe La Russa already is off to a questionable postseason start, having picked the wrong guy for the series opener. Is that something we should chew on? Probably not yet.
Because, right, back to forgetting.
The point is: It’s Giolito’s series now.
What Lynn didn’t get started, Giolito can. All it’ll take is another gem Friday in Game 2. Sure, the Astros led the AL in runs, hits, average and on-base percentage. So what? It doesn’t matter if Giolito stares them down and does what he has done before.
And not to get ahead of ourselves, but let’s do exactly that. Giolito is lined up for a potential Game 5, too. He can save the Sox from disaster in Game 2 — come on, there’d be no coming back from an 0-2 deficit for this team — and then he can save their postseason in Game 5 right back here at this cool, quirky park with the choo-choo high above left field.
Do that, and we’re talking about an instant Sox legend. Not the choo-choo. Giolito.
“I’m going to pitch whether it’s Game 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “That’s my day, and I’m going to take the ball and do my absolute best. That’s all I care about.”
Giolito has been ascending for a while now. After a terrible 2018, when he led the AL in walks and earned runs allowed and had the highest WHIP in the majors, he roared to life in 2019. His first All-Star season led him into the role of Opening Day starter in 2020, when he would also throw his first no-hitter and — even better — take the mound for the Sox in the postseason opener in Oakland and deliver a lights-out performance in the team’s only victory against the Athletics.
Nothing this season has indicated that Giolito can’t take things up another notch. Even though Lynn was brought in via an offseason trade to at least temporarily shoulder the title of staff ace. Even though Lynn and Carlos Rodon — and not Giolito — were 2021 All-Stars. Even though young Dylan Cease, the likely Game 3 starter, has ridiculous talent above and beyond Giolito’s.
So here’s the next notch for Giolito: to load this team on his back and carry it to the next round.
It’s a hell of a big ask, but as the narrator says in that Guaranteed Rate commercial that features Giolito and appears on my TV an unofficial 74 times per day: “If you believe, you will.”
Belief is what Giolito is all about. This is a guy who battled terrible anxiety before starts and came home depressed after them in 2018. Who was ridiculed and tormented by idiotic Sox fans on social media. Whose wife, Ariana, would spend time deleting nasty messages before he could go online after crummy outings and see them.
“At one point,” she told me in 2019, “it seemed like the whole world was just completely against him and awful.”
So what did he do about it? After the misery of 2018, he dove full-on into neurofeedback training and became fascinated and inspired by what it did for him. His anxiety and stress lowered. His self-doubt stopped getting the better of him. The fear he’d felt went away, replaced — he was sure of it — by what would become an ability to perform under pressure.
Giolito wants that pressure.
And now he has it, like never before.
By the way, that commercial? It’s a bit dated.
“Lucas Giolito,” the narrator begins, “2018 worst pitcher in baseball. But he had something you couldn’t see in the stats: belief that those numbers didn’t define him. And one season later, this dude was an All-Star.”
Great. We’re well aware. But it’s 2021 — and it’s going to get away from the Sox unless Giolito goes from All-Star to world-beater.
Can he do it? Can he carry this giant load by meeting this mammoth moment?
If he does, we’re going to need a new script.