At the best moment of Lucas Giolito’s career, he thought of the worst.
When he couldn’t get anybody out and couldn’t figure out why, when every time he climbed a mound he knew he would “get [his] ass kicked,” when he was by most measures the worst pitcher in baseball, in the spring of 2018, he happened to board a hotel elevator alongside his manager, White Sox skipper Rick Renteria.
Renteria grabbed him by the back of the neck. “I know you’re going to be an All-Star one day,” he said.
Giolito considered his 7.53 ERA, his latest clunker in a string of them, his total inability to put the ball where he wanted it. And he believed Renteria.
Wearing a Bulls jersey and a surgical mask, his hair still glistening from the beer shower his teammates had given him, Giolito took the podium on Tuesday, less than an hour removed from throwing his first no-hitter, and thought back to that elevator ride.
In 2012, he had been the Nationals’ first-round pick out of Harvard-Westlake (Los Angeles) high school. In ’16, he was the top pitching prospect in the sport. In ’17, he was the essential piece in the deal that netted Washington outfielder Adam Eaton. In ’18, Giolito was the most disappointing player in the game. That winter, he entirely remade his delivery, with the help of his high school pitching coach, Ethan Katz, and he honed his mentality. In ’19, Giolito was an All-Star. And in ’20, he threw the first no-hitter of the season.
“There's overall confidence, and then situational confidence,” he said. “In ’18, I had, like, no situational confidence. I’d take the ball, I'd go out there and pitch, and I wasn't confident in myself. I mean, a few games I was, but most of the time, I was searching. I was anxious. But I knew, through it all, that a really, really good pitcher was in there somewhere.”
A few minutes earlier, Renteria had worked to steady his voice. "We can believe in them, you know, but they've got to believe themselves,” he said. “We can't believe for them.”
Giolito and his White Sox beat the Pirates 4–0 on Tuesday. Chicago improved to 18–12 and brought its playoff odds, according to FanGraphs, to 97.4%. Giolito struck out 13 and walked one in 101 pitches. No pitcher had ever fanned so many batters on so few pitches in a no-hitter.
A few teammates made special plays: First baseman José Abreu saved an off-target throw from shortstop Tim Anderson and swiped a tag on the batter for the 18th out; Anderson ranged behind the bag, scooped up a grounder and threw off-balance for the 20th; right fielder Adam Engel hurled himself at a sinking line drive for the 27th.
But Giolito dominated, inducing an incredible 30 swings and misses, the second-most in a no-hitter since 1988, according to ESPN. When he finished, his teammates ignored social-distancing regulations and rushed him while he gazed skyward.
Twenty-seven months ago, Giolio hung his head in an elevator. On Tuesday, he threw it back in triumph.
• Indians righty Shane Bieber didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, he told reporters after the game. He still struck out 10 and allowed only two runs in seven innings. We are about halfway through the season; if there were an All-Star Game, he’d be starting it.
• Maybe Nationals center fielder Victor Robles got tired of hearing all the arguments about whether Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper or Washington right fielder Juan Soto is the more exciting player to watch.
• Tuesday was scheduled to be the first day since July 26 that all 30 MLB teams took the field. But a rainstorm scuttled that plan, pushing Yankees-Braves to a Wednesday doubleheader. Wednesday and Thursday won’t be clean days, either—Hurricane Laura is imminent, so Wednesday’s Angels-Astros game was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Sept. 5 and Thursday’s was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Tuesday. Cross your fingers for Friday!