A rebuilt pitcher puts together the season’s first no-hitter
By Tyler Kepner
The grim line of numbers is frozen forever, a monument to the depths of professional despair for Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox. In 2018, he had a 6.13 ERA with 90 walks. It is very hard to be that bad and stay in the majors.
Only three other pitchers have exceeded those figures in a season since 1936, and all of them had an excuse — they pitched for the Colorado Rockies, with home games in the thin air of Denver in the years before steroid testing. Giolito? He was just a mess, and he never tried to deny it.
“I led the major leagues in pretty much every pitching category you don’t want to lead the major leagues in — and it’s like: Why shy away from that?” Giolito said earlier this year, by his locker at spring training in Glendale, Ariz. “You’ve got to own it and use it as fuel and motivation to get better.”
Giolito, 26, used his struggles as motivation to change, overhauling his mechanics before last season and resolving to throw more change-ups and lively four-seam fastballs. He made his first All-Star team in 2019 and threw the first no-hitter of the major league season Tuesday in Chicago, striking out 13 Pittsburgh Pirates with one walk in a 4-0 victory.
“You’ve seen how much he’s worked,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “He’s one of the guys that’s done so much in terms of turning themselves around. I don’t have any words. I want to cry. I’m really happy for him.”
For a franchise with only two pennants in the last century, the White Sox have a charmed history with no-hitters. Giolito’s was their 19th, trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have 23. Three have been perfect games, by Charlie Robertson, Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber. One pitcher threw a spitball (Ed Walsh). Another threw a shine ball (Eddie Cicotte). One did it as his last major league win (Joe Cowley), another as his first (Wilson Alvarez).
But Giolito’s might have been the most dominant. He lost his chance for a perfect game by walking Erik González to lead off the fourth inning, but his 13 strikeouts were the most ever in a White Sox no-hitter. He also induced 30 swings and misses, the most in a no-hitter since Nolan Ryan had 31 against Oakland in 1990.
“We saw one of the best pitchers in the game have a performance of a lifetime,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “You tip your cap.”
The Pirates have been the worst team in the majors this season (7-19 after another loss to the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon), and against Giolito they only hit a few balls hard. One was at the very end, by González, who smoked an 0-2 fastball to right field at 102.6 mph off the bat. A ball like that is a hit 85 percent of the time, according to Statcast, but Adam Engel made a racing, off-balance catch to end the game.
With no fans in the stands, the White Sox did their best to create some atmosphere. Giolito said he noticed the automated crowd noise “getting louder and louder as the game went on.” It was his first no-hitter since a seven-inning performance in a Class AAA game in 2017.
That was Giolito’s first season with the White Sox organization after five years with the Washington Nationals, who chose him 16th overall in the 2012 draft. He most likely would have gone higher, but teams had concerns about his elbow; he needed Tommy John surgery that September.
Giolito grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., with a Hollywood background. His parents, Rick Giolito and Lindsay Frost, are actors. A grandfather, Warren Frost, played George Costanza’s father-in-law, Henry Ross, on “Seinfeld.” An uncle, Mark Frost, was a co-creator of the TV series “Twin Peaks.”
But the family business was not for him. Giolito’s teammates at Harvard-Westlake High School included two other future major league starters, St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty and Atlanta’s Max Fried. Baseball was far more appealing than acting.
“I never even considered it because my mom always steered me clear of it,” Giolito said at the Futures Game in 2014. “She used to come home from auditions like, ‘Oh, this is the worst.’ I mean, it’s fun, especially if you love drama and acting and all that, but it’s a really tough industry. I think it’s a little more fun being able to go outside and play a sport for money than to grind through the hard side of auditions and memorizing lines.”
Back then, the baseball grind was still ahead for him. Giolito failed his audition in Washington in 2016, with a 6.75 ERA in six appearances, and then was traded to Chicago as part of a package for right fielder Adam Eaton. The White Sox were tearing down after an 84-loss season then, and things would get worse: 95 losses in 2017, then 100 in 2018 and 89 last year.
Lately, though, the White Sox have been among the majors’ hottest teams, winning nine of 10 through Wednesday. They lead the American League in homers and seem likely to grab one of the league’s eight playoff berths, which would put them in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The team’s official slogan, suggested by dynamic shortstop Tim Anderson, is “Change The Game.” Giolito embodies the mantra.
“I know that I can continue to get better,” he said after the no-hitter. “There are a lot of things I can improve. That’s all I care about.”
On Tuesday night, it was hard to imagine anyone pitching better.