There was something unusually flat about the loss the night before.
Lance Lynn said it was a “slap in the face.”
If so, it woke up the White Sox bright and early Sunday. They blitzed the Cubs with five home runs, starting with Luis Robert’s in the first inning, and rode an 11-strikeout performance from former Cubs prospect Dylan Cease to a 13-1 victory. It was their fifth win in six games in the crosstown series — the most in a season for the Sox against the Cubs.
It’s the way it probably should be in 2021, with the Sox cruising toward an American League Central title and the Cubs fielding a team going nowhere. The last thing the Sox, playing before their 13th sellout crowd of the season, wanted was to lose a series they know is meaningful to their fans, especially on their own turf. They had to beat Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks to do it, and they made it look easy.
Cease was just the man to realign the stars. He notched the eighth double-digit strikeout game of his career and allowed four hits, two walks and one run — on Frank Schwindel’s homer leading off the fourth. After that, he struck out the side to finish the inning and struck out three in the fifth, too.
“It’s the old Earl Weaver saying,” manager Tony La Russa said. “The momentum every day is the starting pitcher.”
Cease brought it back to the South Side by matching a career high in strikeouts. Deemed not good enough to start a postseason game a year ago, Cease (11-6, 3.82 ERA) now looks like a starter possessing top-tier stuff and improved command demanding a start in October.
“I feel great,” said Cease, who complemented a fastball that touched 99.7 mph with his hard slider. “My velocity has been picking up. My stuff is sharp, my command is as good as it’s ever been in my career right now. I’m ready to just keep taking the ball every fifth day.”
Cease got 17 swings and misses. When the Sox swung, they connected often. A day after getting a night off, Robert slugged two home runs, Yasmani Grandal hit his third homer in three games, Brian Goodwin went deep and Eloy Jimenez lifted an opposite-field three-run shot as if to place a celebratory bow on the 100th and 101st RBI by reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu.
Abreu had bounced a ground-rule double over the center-field wall just before Jimenez followed with the knockout blow to Hendricks (14-6), who lasted 4‰ innings.
“When things are clicking like that, we’re a scary team,” Cease said. “Our pitching is incredible, and our offense, especially today, has been nothing short of spectacular. We just have to keep it going into October.”
At 94 pitches, it looked like Cease would be finished at five innings, but knowing he’ll have extra rest with days off Monday and Thursday, he requested and got an extra inning, finishing with 108.
“I’m very grateful they let me go back out,” Cease said. “I’m glad I finished on a high note.”
Finishing on the right note is what the Sox (76-56) have in mind for September, which is almost here.
“By the time we get to October, if our heads are on straight and we’ve learned some stuff between now and then, I think we’re going to be tough to play against,” La Russa said.
But there still are areas to improve, he said.
“With little tweaks, big tweaks, I think we can get better,” La Russa said.