Within minutes after he finished beating the Pirates to improve to 8-0 and lower his ERA to 2.53, Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty knew the stars were aligned.
He would square off against White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Giolito had pitched eight innings of one-run ball against the Twins that day. Both teams had a day off coming up.
“So I reached out to him and just saw what was up,” Flaherty said Monday. “ ‘Are you throwing on Tuesday?’ I was like, OK, there might be a chance. Once it happened, I was like, all right, this will be cool. This will be fun.”
And fun not just because it’s a matchup of former high school teammates. Both were first-round picks (Giolito is two years older) who became major-league staff aces, and their coach at Harvard-Westlake (California) High School, Ethan Katz, is the Sox’ first-year pitching coach.
“I’ll probably laugh for a split second,” Flaherty said, thinking ahead to when he starts his warmup, “and seeing him and seeing my high school pitching coach over there, too.”
The man in the middle but firmly on Giolito’s side Tuesday is Katz, who also coached Braves left-hander Max Fried on the same high school team as Giolito and Flaherty. The four of them remain tight.
“We have a close relationship,” Katz said.
When Giolito found during the offseason that longtime pitching coach Don Cooper would no longer be in charge of the team’s pitching staff, one person came to mind: Katz.
Giolito grabbed his phone and told new manager Tony La Russa about Katz. He talked up Katz, an up-and-comer on the Giants’ staff, most recently serving as an assistant pitching coach, to the front office.
Giolito had risen to an All-Star and Opening Day starter, but he got there in large part because of his work with Katz during the offseason after he led the majors in earned runs and walks in his first full season, posting a 6.13 ERA in 32 starts in 2018. He stayed in contact with Katz that year, hashing over what was going wrong, and Katz helped him redo his delivery in the offseason.
In 2019, Giolito had a 3.41 ERA in 29 starts. Last season, he threw a no-hitter and had a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts.
This year, the consistency has eluded him, and the ERA is at 4.35. But it’s only May, and he goes into the Cardinals game with that strong performance against the Twins on Wednesday in his pocket.
“As the game went on, everything started to fall into place, and it was like, ‘OK, cool, here we are,’ ’’ Giolito said. “Anytime I have a game where it’s like I’m throwing harder, I’m feeling stronger as the game goes on, that shows me that I’m right where I need to be. Credit to Ethan and all the work we’ve been putting in on the side the last couple of weeks to clean up a few things. I’m feeling very good right now.”
Flaherty’s numbers speak for themselves, so the reunion will take place with everyone in a happy place.
“It will be a classic competition,” La Russa said. “It’s a unique day.”
Friends and family of both players will be there, and memories will flow. Giolito spoke fondly about the brownies Flaherty’s mother, “Mama Flare,” would make. And so it went.
“Lucas was one of the first guys, when I was a freshman and he was a junior, to introduce himself to me,” Flaherty said. “He doesn’t remember that; I do. I kind of went with him everywhere. I was always close with him.”
At 7:10 p.m., the friendship will have its limits, as you’d expect.
“It’s just a really fun moment for both of us,” Giolito said. “And once the game starts, we’re going to focus on what we do, not focus on who’s pitching. I’m just going to be hoping that we’re scoring a lot of runs.”