I know Sox fans can be an insular bunch. Actually, I know Sox fans can be THE insular bunch. But you’ll have to excuse a non-Sox fan being inspired to write this post.
Even up here on the Northside, with our daily rainbows and IPA-filled rivers (that actually might be true considering the amount of breweries clustered by the river), I was hit with a touch of disappointment when Lucas Giolito was shut down for the season. Which was silly, because he was only going to miss out on three starts or so, and none of them would matter in the long run. And it’s not like his arm fell off, or I have to write my own funeral dirge and wear a shroud like most of baseball media did when Christian Yelich broke his kneecap (and the Brewers have lost once since, because baseball is weird and evil).
And the funny thing is that it’s only been three seasons since the White Sox had another genuine ace in the rotation, one of the 10-15 there are in baseball (if that many). It’s not like it’s an unfamiliar feeling for the guys in black. They know the joy of the day when that guy is taking the mound, and even if it’s just for that day, your team is must-watch. And yet what Chris Sale and Lucas Giolito represent seems so different.
By the time Sale reached the rotation, the Sox were stuck in that skipped-record cycle where Kenny Williams would go for it every year, construct a mish-mashed collection of assorted parts that he found on the garage floor, and if absolutely everything went right…they’d finish three games or more behind the Tigers. Which they did once, in Sale’s first year as a starter in 2012. And then Sale never pitched an important game for the White Sox again. Sox fans had long ago seen exactly what was going on, and where it wouldn’t go, and how it would never change.
So almost from the get-go, there was this feeling that Sale was going to go to waste. Before his career unfolded, there was a fear that it wouldn’t amount to anything for the team. Sox fans had already tired of their front office approach, wanted coherence, and could see down the road that there wasn’t anything down that road. It was impossible to avoid the conclusion that something special was going to get tarnished by its surroundings.
(It also didn’t help that much that Sale turned out to be a complete pissbaby, but whatever).
Giolito seems to be the complete opposite. He portends to all the big things down the road. There’s a lot in the distance instead of a void.
Sox fans believe in the rebuild for the most part, but they hadn’t had much vision of it before. Yoan Moncada, Giolito, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez and others have come up, and they’re physically there, but they hadn’t flashed before this year what they could be. That’s what this year was about.
And obviously it’s not Giolito alone, because Moncada and Anderson have been great as well. But Gio…well, there’s a place a genuine ace holds that no regular player gets to. Sure, there might be a three-homer game there, or a 4-for-4, or a walk-off hit. But they rarely if ever hold the whole game in their hand and simply squeeze the life out of it just to hear the wheeze. And that’s what Giolito did most of the time this year.
The one that sticks out to me is the late-August complete game in Target Field with the 12 Ks against the Twins. But there are so many other to pick. That day, Gio’s change-up was Merlin-created. It seemed to stop in mid-air to point and laugh at whoever was swinging at it. That’s the thing with pitchers. Hitters can make one pitcher or one pitch look foolish once. Pitchers can make eight hitters look like it’s their first day on the job and they’ve been kept awake for three days before multiple times in a game. Gio did that that day, and many others, but that day it was to a lineup that’s going down in history (however strangely).
When Sox fans watched Giolito this season, they didn’t look into the future and have to wonder or dread that it would all be for nought. That it would be a well-kept secret, a cult hero, much like King Felix in Seattle as well. They watched Giolito and saw big starts against the Twins in September, or October. They saw starts and games they’ll talk about years later. The saw the spearhead to the charge up the standings. Because on that day, Giolito is on the hill and the Sox are unbeatable. There’s a tide or wave of confidence behind a top-end starter that seems to propel a team, if only for those nine innings.
When Sale was in his pomp on 35th, all you could see was doom. Giolito makes you see the possibilities. And sure, you don’t know for sure that they’ll all come to fruition. But that’s part of the excitement, too. At least they’re there. That’s a start.